Public libraries who want to receive Erate funding have to use filters on their public computers to be in compliance with CIPA. I’m not going to debate that. Personally, I think filters are a real drag, but they are already in place all over the country so we have to create policies to use them effectively. No filter has proven to be 100% accurate in blocking a given type of content. We need policies to deal with the reconsideration of blocked content. Librarians have to be able to assess, site by site, what is blocked by filters every time a patron complains about their inability to view material. Then they form committees to review the content, and according to their policy on what material is unacceptable either block the site or allow it to be displayed.
Creating committees is a great way to get things done; they allow everyone to feel as though they’ve contributed to a final decision. Too many committees make for organizational junk. An agile, effective organization is a lean, transparent organization. Redundancy detracts from agility. It is important that organizational structure reflects the theory behind policies, and that committees are never formed just to keep people busy.
Consider a well designed website. A good site has a minimum number of pages and offers the clearest possible path to any given piece of information. Information architects create wireframes and do paper prototyping before they actually build a website to eliminate unnecessary pages. An organizational chart should be subject to the same scrutiny. An organizational chart is a wireframe for structure. Redundancy on a website is an absolute disaster: if there are two paths to two different pages that perform essentially the same function, a user can’t navigate the website logically. Similarly, redundancy in an organizational structure makes for poor communication and inefficiency.
In response to challenges about books, libraries have committees and policies to evaluate whether or not the books should remain on the shelf. Take a look at the banned and challenged books information on the ALA website. Books are always being challenged; Americans have a rich history of wishing to shelter their children from information that might compromise their purity and integrity from infancy through their teen years. How is challenging a book any different from challenging web content? It isn’t.
In 2004 OCLC published “Content not Containers”, a paper spawned by the proliferation of consumer electronics and informed by the media ecology theories of Marshall McLuhan. It described the way information formats have become increasingly less important to the end user than the information itself. Libraries do not have separate committees to reconsider music, movies, or databases. We do not need to differentiate between media formats, because we are concerned with the content. People fear new media because they don’t understand it. First radio, then TV… Those damn kinds and their rock n’ roll… now the internet. It’s really all the same. We should be leaders in recognizing that, and our organizational structure should reflect this.
It is of vital importance that libraries do not form separate committees for the reconsideration of electronic content. Reevaluating the content on websites should be an added responsibility for whatever committee currently considers challenges of print materials. Forming a new committee weakens the foundations of the argument presented in Content not Containers (a disservice to those of us who believe filters shouldn’t be there in the first place), adds unnecessary organizational junk, and creates sluggishness of communication.