The Madison Public Library board decided to decline a grant for additional mobile Wi-Fi hotspots because of a condition to place content filters on them.
It was a difficult decision, but ultimately, we believe the right one. Even so, it needs a lot of explanation.
The federal grant requirement to add the internet filters would be a form of censorship, the local board decided, and would have a "... negative effect on the mission of the library."
A little history: Congress has passed bills three times to restrict access to the internet. The first two attempts were held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court based on First Amendment grounds. The third bill, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requires internet restrictions only on devices paid for by federal funds. That bill was challenged legally by the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, but the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the federal government had the right to require filtering on devices it paid for.
We certainly understand, and appreciate, the intent of the law -- to keep terrible content away from children. But censorship is a tricky issue. What some people think should be censored is different from what others think should be censored. And most Americans believe the federal government shouldn't be the one deciding what may or may not be accessed. Some governments -- China and Russia, for sure -- do censor books, magazines and internet content.
Libraries have often been in the crosshairs of the fight, with people on both sides of the issue looking to them.
In Madison, the public access computers are in sight of the circulation desk, so that librarians can observe children accessing inappropriate content on the library's internet system.
We understand how difficult this issue is, and how standing up for a freedom can seem counter to what seems logical. But we believe the library board acted appropriately.
-- Jon M. Hunter