A Bill of Rights for Libraries

THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Judith Krug
Title: “A Bill of Rights for Libraries?”
VTR: 4/13/00

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And when today’s guest first joined me here two decades ago I introduced her by referring to the fact that even many, many years before, in the 1950s, in fact, when McCarthyism ran rampant in our nation, my own paperback Documentary History of the United States was caused for a while to disappear from certain bookshelves, presumably because its interpretations of the past didn’t pass Conservative muster. Why the reference? Because the redoubtable Judith Krug was then, as she had been since 1967 and is still not the Director of the highly respected Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. Consistently one of this nation’s most articulate defenders of freedom to read and freedom of expression.

Now, turnabout is fair play, and a few years after she joined me here, I joined Judith Krug at an American Library Association annual conference in my role then as Chair of the motion picture industry’s voluntary film rating system. And much to my surprise, and chagrin, I must admit, I discovered then that the ALA believes firmly that all persons, including minors, must have equal access to library materials, regardless of the medium involved. That’s in its “Library Bill of Rights”. Since instead I believe so strongly that distinguishing between children and adults is the very hallmark of a civilized society, that discriminating between them and their elders is not discriminating against our children, indeed is the beginning of wisdom, I have long wanted to talk out this difference with Judith Krug at the moment of an important “freedom to read” or view victory.

Well, now one has occurred. In February 2000, in what The New York Times calls “the deeply Conservative town of Holland, Michigan, where a proposal to force the local library to block access from its computers to sites containing material harmful to minors, was squarely defeated at the ballot box. The ALA and Judith Krug were reported as accepting the filtering of children’s access to harsh, Internet materials as a tool for home computers. But rejecting them as violating them the First Amendment when used in libraries. And that’s what I’d like to ask my guest today to elaborate upon. “Judith, talk about that, if you will{”.

KRUG: Well, one of the problems with filters is that we don’t know what’s being filtered out. So that becomes an initial problem. Usually in libraries, when we’re selecting materials to add on our shelves we generally have lists of criteria that we rely on. But when you’re talking about filtering programs, the software program, the filtering companies consider this information to be proprietary so nobody knows exactly what is being filtered out. And the only way that you do know is when you try to access information and you find “access denied” quote/unquote on the screen. Where all of a sudden you’re faced with a situation of not being able to give the user who can be young or old or in-between the information that he or she has wanted and that’s why they came to the library. Now are figures say that the filters are 87% effective in filtering out sexual information. But right there there’s a problem. What are we talking about when we’re talking about “sexual information”? Are we talking about explicit information or are we talking about sex education materials and the truth, Richard, is both of these have been blocked depending on the, the filtering program that’s being used. So 87% of the sexual information is filtered out in the best of filters. Only 60% of the information is filtered out from hate and crime sites, but a much more meaningful statistic to librarians is that the best filters eliminate up to 30% of useful, valuable, legal information that our users need and want. And quite honestly, occasionally might make the difference in their lives. So when we’re talking about filters for a public institution whose goal it is, is to bring people together with the information they want, filters that block information that they want become a problem for us. Now, you know, there’s all kinds of other reasons that we don’t agree with filters. Whose value system is going to be programmed in there? Your? Mine? The most Conservative? The most Liberal? So that all these issues become involved in our decision to determine that the library is not the appropriate place to block information. I think that my colleagues and I believe that there are other ways to help people access the information that they need and want and that is, not only appropriate, but understandable for them, given their level of education. Given their age. Given their background and so on.

HEFFNER: Is there a problem to which some people have suggested the solution for libraries is the filter?

KRUG: Well, the basis of the American Library Association policy is that we do not promote filters for libraries because they block Constitutionally protected material. I know, but the ALA of policies of course, are the goal our institutions and my colleagues strive toward these goals. I know that many libraries because how libraries are run is a local decision. I mean many libraries … or at least 15% of the libraries [laughter] are using filters in some way in their institutions. But, on the other hand, 85% of the libraries aren’t using filters at this point.

HEFFNER: But let me come back to the question as to why filters are considered in the first place, at all? What’s the problem?

KRUG: Well, I’ve told you the problem.

HEFFNER: You haven’t told me what the problem is … is the problem that librarians or their constituents and that the public generally is concerned that children will have access …
KRUG: Oh, okay.

HEFFNER: … to harsh violent materials, for instance?

KRUG: Well, many of the people say that it is our responsibility to protect children. Protect children from what? Protect children until they reach what age? Protect children in accordance to whose value systems and whose principals? Again, mine or yours or the parents? And if it is the parents who want their value systems instilled in the young people, then it’s their responsibility to make sure that their children know what those values are. My responsibility as a, as a librarian, as a professional librarian is to make sure that every person gets the information they need and want. My role is not to say, “no, you can’t have that information because your parents might not like it.” If the parents don’t like it, and they don’t want their children to have certain information, that’s fine. But they have to take the responsibility for it. I can’t.

HEFFNER: But, Judith, I remember many, many years ago, when we spoke about parallel subjects, when we spoke about a simple matter of books. And we spoke about a world that was so much simpler than today’s is …

KRUG: I will agree with that. [Laughter]

HEFFNER: … you indicated sympathy with parental concerns.

KRUG: I still do.

HEFFNER: Well, what about those concerns when the relate to what children can have access to in libraries.

KRUG: We’re still concerned. We’re still there to help parents and to partner with parents. But I’m not going to be the parent. And that is … so many parents want to say, “I don’t want my children to have this kind of information and you, librarian, are responsible for making sure my child doesn’t”. No. I’m responsible for saying, “This is the information that available. If you don’t want your children to see certain information, then it’s up to you either to be with them at the library, or when they are older and can understand and take responsibility for themselves, you have to talk to them and explain to them why you don’t want them to have information of certain kinds. And lay down the law. And if they don’t adhere to your wishes, I’m sorry, but that does not become my problem.

HEFFNER: Well, you say it doesn’t become your problem. But Parent A and Parent B and Parent C all support the library, they’re all taxpayers. And they support library. And they’re concerned that the library should reflect their standards. Now they know that they have a basic responsibility. And perhaps they also know that in this world of ours today, it’s really much less possible than it was for parents to look over their children’s shoulders. And they want you to help them maintain the standards that they would have their children repair to. Aren’t you going to be willing to help them?

KRUG: I mean, I’m willing to help them, Richard. But I’m not willing to become the parent. I’m not willing to stand between their wishes and their children. The parents have to stand there. You’re talking about Parent A and Parent B and Parent C … what about D. E and F? Whose concerns are not mainstream? Whose concerns are not the same as mine? Or yours, perhaps. And yet, their concerns are as legitimate as A, B and C’s. My problem as the librarian is how do I do my job while in effect, I’m raising your children. My role is to make information available. There’s a lot of information that I didn’t want my children to have. And I told them exactly what I didn’t want them to have. Did that mean that they always listened to me? No, I don’t think so. In fact, I would hope [laughter] in some ways that they didn’t always listen to me because I would like to think that my kids sort of exercised a little discretion, self-discretion, and a bit of “going beyond the bounds” just to test it out. But by and large, I suspect that they did adhere to what I wanted them to. I trusted them and I have no reason to believe substantially after the fact [laughter] that my trust was misplaced. I tried … I tried as a parent to teach my children self-responsibility. And I think that we succeeded. My husband and I. At least I hope we did. And now, of course, we’re trying with the next generation. But the truth is that somewhere the parents have to say, “okay, I really am a good parent, I’ve tried to instill in my children certain values, certain principals, and I’m going to trust them to understand and to adhere to them”. I would like to think that parents can trust their children today. And that they do trust them until they are given evidence that they can’t. Now that’s not always true. And I realize that, and I realize, too, that not every kid can be trusted. But nevertheless we are dealing with human beings. They are thinking … if we don’t begin to teach them at some point early in life, how in the world are they ever going to grow up to be thinking citizens in this society?

HEFFNER: Your, your, your statement seems to be … and I’m not being critical about this, believe me, Judith. But it seems to be, and I’m want to understand it … “it’s the parents responsibility. And in a sense, it’s just too bad if they don’t exercise their responsibility … do what they should be doing with their children”.

KRUG: I think that there’s more to it than that. Because while, yes, it is the parents responsibility, we are willing to assist them. We are willing to say, “these are the kinds of rules and regulations that you’re going follow in the library.” We are going to help people learn about the computer and what’s appropriate. We’re going to help them identify the appropriate sites for them. We’re going to bookmark the kinds of information that is appropriate … for instance for children in the children’s room.

HEFFNER: And inappropriate?

KRUG: No, is appropriate.

HEFFNER: Right. But not inappropriate.

KRUG: Well, no because I don’t … I mean we’re talking about a million or a billion websites. I mean how in the world am I ever going to identify what isn’t

HEFFNER: Well, but that’s another question, isn’t it? How are we going to do it? But the question, the point is we’re going to identify what you consider, your standards, the library’s standards … of what’s appropriate. Right?

KRUG: We are going to join forces with all the other librarians and the other people, and organizations and groups who are involved in these arenas right now in identifying the kinds of information that is most useable. That is best for young people. And when push comes to shove we still have the right to access information and young people have wide ranging concerns, not all of which I suspect you would consider appropriate. And yet, in many instances, I feel that if that’s what they want, and the material is within the bounds of legal materials, then they are more than welcome to have it.

HEFFNER: How would you react to someone who would say “Judith, what you’re talking about is something that is quite appropriate to an older America. You know mid-nineteenth, twentieth century America, indeed.” But that today we have some many children whose relationships with their parents are so different than they were. Their are absentee parents and their latch-key kids and by and large that same sense of participation that you ask for because you’re saying to parents “participate, this is your job”. We aren’t our parents except of our own children and we’re not going to act like your child’s parents”. But we do live in a very different time and do you have no sympathy for the parent who says, “gee I don’t know any more, I’m so dead tired when I get home. I’m holding two jobs and my husband is holding two jobs and we’ve got to depend upon the community and its agency, the library, which plays such an enormous role in our children’s lives”.

KRUG: Are you saying that you want me to stop being the information provider and start raising your children? I mean, that’s what I’m hearing. I’m supposed to give up the role of make sure that everyone, regardless of their age, has the information that’s that they need and want, and instead become the care-giver. Is that what I’m hearing from you?

HEFFNER: What you’re hearing from me is the question that’s raised by a good many people …

KRUG: Oh, no, I want to hear what you’re …

HEFFNER: … as to whether …

KRUG: … saying … A good many people who want to foist off their responsibilities on somebody else.

HEFFNER: Judith, you see the point of “foist off responsibility”. I’m not worried about my children any longer, I’m not worried about my grandchildren any longer because I know that their parents take good care of them. But I am concerned about those people who a) don’t give a damn, or b) don’t have the time to be the kinds of parents that we were with our children. That our children are with their children. The time to be realistic enough to ask whether you don’t have some of the burden to say, “Judith Krug, yes, you have more responsibilities in this century than you did in the last century”. I don’t know that that’s such a burden to impose upon you.

KRUG: Oh, it’s a huge burden.

HEFFNER: Or that it’s not one you should take.

KRUG: You’re talking about decreasing funding, fewer personnel …

HEFFNER: No, I want to give you more money.

KRUG: And yet …

HEFFNER: I don’t want to take away.

KRUG: But you’re not.

HEFFNER: I’m ???

KRUG: You can sit here and say that.

HEFFNER: Yeah.

KRUG: But you haven’t been after the State Legislatures getting more money for libraries.

HEFFNER: Then you say, we’ll make a deal, cut a deal. I’ll get more money. Come on.

KRUG: No. I want you to get out there and start funding for more, more library resources and then you could come back to me and start cutting a deal.

HEFFNER: Let’s make a deal. I’ll agree with on that. Okay?

KRUG: Okay, you’re going to go out there and fight …

HEFFNER: I’m going to go out there and I’ll do it tomorrow because you’ll tell me how to. But what are you going to do?

KRUG: I’m going to make sure that they have more and better information when they need it so, and then they’re going to use that information to make the decisions that are important to them. Am I going to become a babysitter? No way. I’m going to keep giving our young people and our old people and the people in between the information that they need to make bone fide, valid decisions for themselves, for their families, for their communities. Because I am of the opinion that the more information that people have, the more access to it that they have, they more librarians they have to help them understand the information and how to use it, the more they are going to develop self-responsibility, take responsibility for themselves and they’re going to be partners with their parents in growing up to be the kinds of children that you would like to see them grow up to be….

HEFFNER: What’s the difference between your responsibilities and the school principals, or the school teacher’s responsibility.

KRUG: There is a substantial difference in the responsibility. For instance, school personnel serve in loco parentis. They are serving in, instead of the parents during those six or seven hours the children are in the school. We’re not. Public librarians do not have that responsibility.

HEFFNER: May I ask you … simple question.

KRUG: Mmmhmm.

HEFFNER: Do you not have it because of tradition? Do you not have it because of choice, it isn’t what you want to do?

KRUG: We don’t have it because of the law, but because of the tradition.

HEFFNER: What do you mean “the law”.

KRUG: We don’t have that responsibility under the law. The schools do. We don’t. Because our responsibility in public libraries is the information responsibility, not … we are not raising the children, we’re educating them, serving in that capacity any thing like, for instance as the schools are. Now whether the school librarian has that responsibility I don’t know. But I do know that principals, superintendents, teachers do have that responsibility.

HEFFNER: You know, it’s interesting that you say because you really explained to me something that simply didn’t know, although I had been reading your materials and coming

KRUG: I can’t put everything into that

HEFFNER: … coming to grapple with the legal implications that you face if you did act as a filter or create filters between youngsters who come into the library and harsh materials. You were damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

KRUG: Well, the true is that we, we only have one well, we have the U. S. Supreme Court decision in the Communications Decency Act which was nine -zero, which said that libraries … it wasn’t … the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union were the two main plaintiffs in the two cases, which were consolidated. And we weren’t talking about libraries per se, we were focusing on the Internet and quote indecent and unquote language on the Internet … in decent sites. What the Supreme Court did say is that the Internet is like a library, or like a newspaper, or like a book store, in that you choose what you want on the Internet. And therefore, the Internet is entitled to the same level of First Amendment protection as is other formats of print, other forms of print. As opposed to the First Amendment protections which are substantially less, effecting the broadcast media. The second thing that the Court said is that young people cannot determine what is going to be appropriate for adults. And to turn it around, adults are not going to be placed in a position of having access on the Internet, or in another medium only to that information that is acceptable for young people. So that we have a very strong U. S. Supreme Court decision, focusing on important and very basic First Amendment issues. So that’s the U. S. Supreme Court. In terms of libraries we only have one major decision and that came out of Louden County, Virginia, where the courts said that you cannot filter all the computers in the library. Now the issue that was not litigated, because now the Louden put filters on all their computers for everything. The issue that was not decided was what would happen if only the children’s computers, in the children’s room were filtered and not the adults). I can’t answer that question because we never got to it. Although there’s one other case, Kathleen R. versus Livermore. It focuses, or came out of the Livermore California Public Library where a parent sued the library because her son downloaded, in here opinion, sexually explicit images on to a disc from the library computer, took it somewhere else and printed them out. And she felt it was our responsibility to have kept her child from doing this. So that’s where the law stands at this point. And I mean we’re still at the beginning.

HEFFNER: Whatever the law says at the moment though, if I understand it correctly , the American Library Association says “thou shalt not…” distinguish between what is available to anyone regardless of age, among other things

KRUG: Well, we … we’ve always distinguished what has been … what’s appropriate or what is normal for children, young adults, adults. I mean we have children’s rooms, we have young adult rooms or sections. And we leave the adult part of the library.

HEFFNER: So separating out is acceptable.

KRUG: Of course it is. And if you walk into a children’s room in a public library today I would suggest that you are going to find on their computers book mark sites that are going to have the information … less than what’s appropriate quote/unquote, more as to what the children want. What they’re interested in. What they want access to. That’s what we’re trying to identify. The filters aren’t going to do that.

HEFFNER: Judith, when the kids want “Doom” are you going to give them that video game?

KRUG: I don’t think that most librarians today condone the use of the library computers to play games. I maybe wrong Richard, but I don’t think so because the demand to use the computers in libraries for information is huge.

HEFFNER: Judith, we obviously have a lot to talk about. And I’ve gotten the signal that we’re finished. But I’m going to keep my promise and …

KRUG: Tomorrow …

HEFFNER: Tomorrow … get you to come back again to join me on The Open Mind.

KRUG: I hope it’s not another 20 years [laughter].

HEFFNER: Thanks, Judith.

KRUG: You’re welcome.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. If you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, New York 10150

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.

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