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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Radical, militant filtering data

Somehow this snuck under my radar: the American Association of School Librarians (AASL, a division of the American Libaray Associaiont (ALA)) released a report on filtering in schools.  Interesting reading.

I've had a sort of platonic crush on librarians ever since the FBI complained that "radical militant librarians kick us around" because the librarians opposed the portion of the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to come into your library and ask for a record of every book you've ever checked out without the inconvenience of getting a warrant, and the library is forbidden to tell you that the FBI stopped by to collect info on you.  The ALA response?  "Radical Militant Librarian" buttons.  [Another reason to love the librarians: they correct the FBI's grammar by inserting a comma between "radical" and "militant."]  My local library's response?  They no longer keep any record of any books checked out; I guess the FBI can find out what books I currently have checked out, but not the book I returned yesterday.

Actually, my affection for librarians started when they fought CIPA all the way to the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, they lost and we're stuck with CIPA.

Back to the school librarians.  The AASL got responses from the librarians in 4,229 schools.  Here are the factoids I found noteworthy:
  1. 94% of schools use filtering software.  That's about what I would have expected, since CIPA requires it, but it's good to see my guess confirmed.
  2. 88% of schools block social networking sites, and 74% block chat sites.  So much for the new CIPA requirement that students learn about "interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms."  It seems that schools are teaching a simple lesson about interacting: Don't.
  3. 47% of filters use blacklists.  Bulldinky.  I'm not aware of any commercially available software that doesn't use blacklists.  They all dress it up with bragging about heuristic this and dynamic that, but I'll bet 90% of all pages blocked are filtered because they're on a blacklist.
  4. The biggest impact of filtering?  "Impeded student research when topic or key word searches are filtered."  OK, it was almost a tie with "Decreased the number of potential distractions."  Still, it's nice to see school librarians corroborate the USDOE statement about the negative effects of CIPA.
Nothing shocking, but leave it to the librarians to provide some actual data for the filtering discussion.

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