The Canton Public Library's method of providing filtered Internet access for children and teens, and unfiltered access for adult in a separate, restricted setting offers the best of both worlds.
That's particularly true in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that upholds the Children's Internet Protection Act, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 2000.
The law requires public libraries that receive certain types of federal money to install filtering software to prevent access by minors to "inappropriate matter" on the Internet. In other words, the federal government says: Do what we think best or you won't get the money.
Without a doubt, the board of trustees for the Canton library and Library Director Jean Tabor believe in the need to protect children and teens from life's ugly under-belly. Computers used by kids and teens and thsoe in public areas where the younger generation may pass are filtered.
Adults are another matter. Refusing adults access to whatever site they wish to access is tantamount to censorship.
Libraries are about information and the free flow of information. Whether that information is considered good or bad for the general adult population is not the issue. To ban certain Web sites from adult viewing is the same as banning certain books. Both fly in the face of the First Amendment, and an act this is adhorrent to democracy and the freedom of thought and expression.
True, the Canton library does not have a special aisle filled with pornographic materials. Nor are they likely to do that. But allowing adult unfiltered use of the computers assigned in a separate room - where those under 18 are not allowed - also doesn't mean they are traipsing in and out for their daily dose of pornography.
The issue is freedom. Freedom of thought. Freedom of choice. These are rights that come along with being an adult, a citizen, a taxpayer.
Tabor and library trustees should be lauded for hanging tough on their position to protect kids and teens, yet provide adults unrestricted access to the Internet. In a second reading of the court ruling, Tabor has found that the only thing the library will lose is its ability to apply for federal grants, something that the library does not often do because of cumbersome applications and slim chances of success.
That Big Brother wants to tell us what is right and good is not unusual. In our world of big government, however, libraries, like townships, are the institutions and forms of government closest to the people. And that is where they should remain.
Whether computers should be filtered is a decision that rests in the community where the library director and its elected board of trustees live and work, and in which they know the standards its residents want followed.