Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Open Access

Refer here to Appendix 9, the minutes of the open access meeting. This group asks an important question: how can the library best balance the compelling interests of protecting children and protecting free speech? This is perhaps the key question facing the CAC and JPA.

They also focused on parental, rather than library, responsibility for guiding a child in his or her use of the Internet. One comment captures this part of the conversation: "Moves to protect minors may be, in some sense, moves to protect our own innocence about the depth of change in our own society. Access in the library will become a side issue. We can take a narrow approach and appear safe, but we should rather focus on teaching children necessary moral and critical thinking skills to avoid bad influence from the increasingly available information." This group believes that the best tool for parents to use in restricting their child's Internet access was "the parent standing there with the child." When the parent is unable to be with the child, the child should be equipped to "think about, evaluate, and process the information they find."

This group agreed for the most part with the librarians. They believe filters are a tool for censoring information. As one person put it, "My children are not capable of protecting their First Amendment rights. It is my job to protect their rights and the rights that their children may have in the future. All of the ideas on the Internet should be allowed to have no more or less room than any other ideas." These participants believe that choice, freedom, responsibility, and education are all at stake in this dispute.

This group had some problems with the approach the people favoring limited access had taken in Gilroy. We did find some understanding of the other position (e.g., they don't want their kids to be harmed; they think...their children need to be protected; some feel it is their responsibility to protect all children). Perhaps more importantly, we discovered some common ground: "Both sides care about the kids." "Both recognize the potential of the Internet." "Both want to anoint the value of parental responsibility." "It's important to continue to have a dialogue." "We both feel we are the majority of the public." "We both agree that pornography is undesirable material."

However, it was quite clear during this discussion, as it was during the limited access meeting, that there is a great deal of anger at the other side. This issue, complex to begin with, has polarized the communities it's touched, created suspicion and fear, damaged respect, and destroyed trust. People on all sides of the issue are experiencing this and the community is in need of healing.

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