It is true that libraries are a public benefit the government is not obligated to provide, just like fireworks displays and hiking trails. But once the government chooses to provide a public benefit, there are limits on how it can restrict use of that public benefit. 

Speech is not food. We have excellent medical, scientific, and legal definitions of food. The various welfare programs remain fairly hands-off about making sure benefits are only used to buy "good food." They do not, for example, require recipients to only buy kosher food or only buy those kinds of food mostly grown in states controlled by whichever party is in power - cherries and avocados for Democrats, beef and corn for Republicans. Nor do they do the converse, prohibit use of the benefit based upon religious or political leanings.

By putting filters on public library computers, we would be spending resources to restrict access to certain kinds of speech because we don't like that speech. The government can't restrict speech, or access to speech, just because it doesn't like it. It could never do so fairly. 

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Comment by Penelope on September 24, 2012 at 5:03pm

I'm not a First Amend. attorney. The ALA has links to all the legal stuff, if I wanted to go through it, but I'm sure Congress saw the issues and crafted the statute around them. That's what the Supreme Court decided, anyway. An additional wrinkle in the statute was the communities had to do notice-and-comment before instituting the filtering. I'm not sure of the constitutional implications of that. In general, Congress can't create carrots infringing First Amend. rights just by doing local notice-and-comment. The FCC links to a software company that helps institutions comply. The ALA provides tips on how public libraries can comply with minimal effort. They basically make unfiltered the default for computers not in children's areas by designating computers "adult use only" or making users certify their age when using them. I'm guessing adults could go to a CIPA-compliant library and not really notice. Kids would go to a special study area paid for with CIPA funds. The library wouldn't take a hit buying the filtering software (or kids' hardware) because the whole point is federal money for technology in libraries; even with the extra expense, it's a net gain for libraries.

Comment by Penelope on September 24, 2012 at 4:29pm

According to the FCC's website (and the American Library Association's, which challenged the law), that statute only applies to institutions in a particular program receiving federal money for certain technology uses. It was part of an education bill, so I'm guessing most of the money went to schools rather than libraries. Also, it merely requires a "policy" about uses of the internet that may be harmful to children. I've been involved in drafting "policies" to meet regulatory or insurance requirements. You draft a policy prohibiting the prohibited activity, and appoint a staffer to enforce it. Then you continue with the status quo. While the FCC's website does mention filtering, this is only for speech with minimal or no First Amend. protections: "pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors." Just as local governments can choose whether to fund libraries, the federal government can put conditions on federal funding of libraries. The law also requires that the library be able to remove the filters when an adult requests.

Comment by Penelope on September 24, 2012 at 12:46pm

Thank you, Allen. The First Amend. issues are exactly my point. Nice to have the practical perspective. As for what wood pulp and e-books get purchased, I know for the two counties where I have privileges [Any California resident can get privileges at San Francisco's libraries.], most purchasing is by a service. Government employees make few acquisition decisions. I don't know about periodicals, and I don't know what factors the for-profit service considers. The libraries are somewhat responsive to patron requests, but I don't know what the budget is for one-offs. The libraries appear to coordinate very well with the schools to make the necessary books available for school projects, but otherwise what's on the shelves is descriptive, not normative. See my comment about Aristotle, to which you can add Gadamer, and likely Plato. If most members of my book group didn't have access to academic libraries, I might suggest a campaign to request more copies of our readings at the local libraries. We had to cancel the Gadamer meeting because not enough people could get copies. There was 1 copy for 3 counties. It's cyclic, too. If the library doesn't have the Rhetoric as a single volume, I'm less likely to bother looking for the Timaeus or Gadamer.

Comment by Penelope on September 24, 2012 at 11:12am

Billy, I'm pretty sure Playboy is available at some public libraries. Cosmo and Redbook are available at my local library. The difference is that the government can pick and choose among benefits it provides, but cannot restrict access to benefits arbitrarily. It can choose not to buy all sorts of resources for its public libraries - for [a real] example, buying multiple copies of the Twilight books, but only one copy of Aristotle's Rhetoric. Once it chooses to provide them, it cannot restrict how they're used. It especially can't spend money to restrict use. Again, internet filters are the government saying, "We'll give you access to almost all of mankind's knowledge, except a legal kind we don't like, and we'll spend money and time, which is money, making sure we don't give you what we don't like."

Comment by Penelope on September 24, 2012 at 11:04am

Bob, any such conditions would be very hard to enforce. It's hard to make deals like that with the government, especially lasting longer than "lives in being plus 22 years." This post was in response to a longer discussion that didn't understand both the local budgeting and Constitutional law issues. As for the kids-and-porn bogeyman [I don't think it's as serious/dangerous, or even likely as others.], the solution at the public library is the same as at home: adult supervision, either by parents or library staff. In public, we can also put screens on the monitor so they can't be viewed from the side, so "kids" can't see what adults access.

Comment by Bob Giraldi on September 22, 2012 at 11:04am

Actually when Andrew Carnegie provided the money which created many of our public libraries it was with the provision that the taxpayers would take over and continue to support them financially.  I don't know if that's still binding or not, but the government might have some legal obligation to support them depending on the terms of those initial bequests.  That said, I'm not comfortable with libraries putting filters on their computers, but what do we do about kids being able to access porn or stumbling on it by mistake?  Not that the filters are 100% foolproof.

Comment by Penelope on July 27, 2012 at 11:35am

I meant I couldn't explicate rational basis and strict scrutiny directly back to the First Amendment. Public libraries could filter porn, but not "hate speech," which is usually political or religious. It's a couple of first-figure syllogisms once you grant that singling out political and religious speech for any special treatment gets strict scrutiny, but what strict scrutiny is and how it relates to the First Amendment, I couldn't describe for lay people.

Comment by John Martinez on July 26, 2012 at 10:29pm
I'd like to think all exchanges lead somewhere, if not for the brain exercise then for the expanded worldview.

I distrust motives and am doubtful of good judgement of gov't just as much as you are. I just don't see where the gov't is obligated to provide a free for all web experience.

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