March 19, 2018

Washington Library Allowed to Filter, Court Holds

The Eastern Washington Federal District Court ruled that the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) is not violating the First Amendment in how it filters Internet content on library computers.

The lawsuit had been brought by the ACLU of Washington in 2006 on behalf of Sarah Bradburn, who was prevented from using NCRL computers to research an academic assignment about youth tobacco usage; Pearl Cherrington, a photographer who was prevented from using NCRL computers to research art galleries and health issues;  Charles Heinlen, who was prevented from using NCRL computers to access his blog on MySpace, as well information relating to fine arts, firearms use by hunters, and “other lawful information;” and The Second Amendment Foundation. (The NCRL has blocked access to the Foundation-sponsored magazine Women & Guns.)

Judge Edward Shea’s order granting NCRL’s motion for summary judgment admitted “Not all of the blocked web pages and sites contain constitutionally-unprotected speech,” however, he felt the appropriate standard to apply is rational review and decided that the library’s policy of requiring patrons to request that specific sites be unblocked, rather than temporarily disabling the filter, met that standard. (Not all requested sites are unblocked.)

Shea also pointed out that filtering of pornographic and gambling content is required by the CIPA, the Federal law which funds the library’s internet access, and highlighted the curatorial function of librarians, dismissing the argument that it only applies in the physical world because of limited space and lack of funds.

NCRL Director Dean Marney said in a statement, “The courts have affirmed that public libraries have the right to be libraries. Libraries should never be forced to use public funds to provide access to child pornography or to become illegal casinos.” Dan Howard, Director of Public Services, added, “What we are doing works. It is fair and equitable and the courts have affirmed that it is constitutional.”

The Washington State Supreme Court had previously rendered a similar decision on the state constitutional issues.

The WLA could not be reached for comment, but had previously declined to take a position on the case. Barbara Jones, director, ALA Office For Intellectual Freedom, told LJ, “The American Library Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation are disappointed in the reported outcome in the Bradburn lawsuit.  We urge people to recall why this case was brought in the first place – adult community members were prevented from reading online publications on youth tobacco use, art galleries, and gun magazines because the library’s Internet filter blocked access to those materials and because the library did not disable the filter or unblock the websites.  We stand by our belief and conviction that such practices do not represent the best practices of the library profession and are in conflict with the First Amendment.  Filters are a barrier to access to constitutionally protected information people expect to find in their local public library. “

While the case was being heard the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) provided factual witnesses on behalf of the plaintiffs, as LJ reported. Then-president of ALA Jim Rettig said, “FTRF has advised libraries that CIPA was upheld by the United States Supreme Court only because the federal government took the position at the oral argument that CIPA requires disabling of filters upon request for adults. Without that guarantee there were insufficient votes for a majority upholding the statute.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Soooo glad this isn’t my library. No one has ever suggested libraries should allow illegal activities, so Marney’s bizarre statement is either obtuse or disingenuous. So, which do you want for a director – an idiot or a liar? The vast majority of people who use library computers do so for legitimate reasons. Which means the vast majority of blocked sites are legitimate. So, “libraries have the right to be libraries”? You can keep your definition of library. Mine provides access to information. Yours doesn’t.

    • “The vast majority of people who use library computers do so for legitimate reasons” ? HA! Shorn, pray tell, when was the last time you’ve worked in (or even BEEN IN) a public library with unfiltered access? It’s a lovely vision you have — where patrons go to the library to simply learn — but I”m afraid it’s not even an approximation of reality. Hilarious post though. You should try stand-up.

  2. Dan Howard says:

    To Shorn: While you may not agree with Mr. Marney, (and President Bill Clinton, the United States Supreme Court, the Washington State Supreme Court, and 9th District Judge Edward Shea) on the issue of internet filtering in libraries, you make yourself appear boorish and ridiculous by resorting to name calling. Mr. Marney is a librarian of principle and honor, the one librarian willing to say the emperor has no clothes. Your post just helps illustrate the lack of civility on the internet.

  3. I have been touting the guidance of Dean Marney for years:

    “Library Porn Removal Roadmap”

    Indeed, he sure did tell the emperor she had no clothes.