Markkula Center of Applied Ethics


Our goal was to provide useful information for the County Library System, the Citizen's Advisory Council, and the Joint Powers Authority as they attempt to reach a thoughtful resolution of this complex issue. We were not asked to recommend a solution. As stated early in the report, one of our goals was to develop recommendations about next steps that might move the issue toward resolution in the county. What follows are primarily recommendations about process, but we have also included some recommendations designed to encourage reflection on the lessons we've learned from this issue as we continue to attempt to form a civic community.

  1. Apart from the public meetings which are already part of the CAC and JPA's planned procedures, we do not recommend convening any additional public deliberations with the goal of seeking common ground and a compromise solution. We believe opposing sides have such fixed and negative impressions of each other that the kind of openness required for a productive debate is precluded.

  2. The Library should ask for a legal opinion from the courts on this matter. There is widespread misunderstanding on the applicable national and local laws.

  3. All things being equal, the final decision should favor as much as possible those who have the greatest needs for information, especially children whose socioeconomic status does not allow them to have a computer or Internet access at home.

  4. No matter what the decision, to the extent that it's feasible, County libraries should develop alternatives to the Internet which are attractive to young children yet still provide computer skills. (Gilroy Library has installed a multimedia CD-ROM station with educational programs especially designed for children.)

  5. Whether the library has filters or not, all children should undergo some education prior to their first use of the Web and during their first months, if possible. The library should review with children the rules for child-safety on the net as proposed in any number of family sites.

  6. If the decision is to install currently available filtering software, the library should acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the advocates of open access and continue to seek alternative solutions that address their concerns, while at the same time providing reasonable tools to parents who wish to restrict their own children's Internet access.

  7. If the decision is not to install currently available filtering software, the Library should acknowledge that a legitimate concern has been raised by the advocates of limited access and continue to seek alternative solutions that address their concerns, while at the same time preserving constitutional freedoms. For example, the County library system and the JPA should monitor and test potential new and upcoming technological solutions at reasonable and practical time intervals.

  8. The library system should address the widespread public misunderstanding of the role of the library and its librarians. This may take a variety of forms, from public discussions of the evolving role of the library and the way it serves the community to broader education efforts or public service advertisements.

  9. This will not be the first nor will it be the last controversy our communities will face. We encourage all parties in this dispute to ask what, if anything, each person or institution could have done differently to discover shared values and advance the common good. The community became more divided as a result of this issue and will need some time to heal. The Ethics Center would be willing to continue to serve as a neutral location for such efforts.

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