A Legal, Ethical, & Technological Dilemma: Internet Filtering for Explicit Content in Public Libraries


  • Peter Doolan The University of British Columbia
  • Mattias Olshausen The University of British Columbia
  • Tim Rainey The University of British Columbia




censorship, collection development, Internet


This literature review, originally written in February 2015 to satisfy course requirements for LIBR 505: Research Methods in Information Organizations, explores various aspects of the debate surrounding Internet filtering for explicit content on public library computers in North America, with a focus on libraries and legislation in the United States. The literature examined extends from the early 2000s to the present.

Author Biographies

Peter Doolan, The University of British Columbia

Peter Doolan is a second-year MLIS student at the University of British Columbia

Mattias Olshausen, The University of British Columbia

Mattias Olshausen is a second-year MLIS student at the University of British Columbia.

Tim Rainey, The University of British Columbia

Tim Rainey is a second-year MLIS student at the University of British Columbia.


Adamson, W. (2002). Sex in the city: What happened at the Minneapolis Public Library. NewBreed Librarian, 2(2). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1794/1113

American Library Association. (2012). A FAQ on library filtering policies in Washington state. Retrieved from http://connect.ala.org/files/28462/Exhibit_I_FilteringPacket.pdf

Bell, Bernard W. (2000). Filth, filtering, and the First Amendment: Ruminations on public libraries' use of internet filtering software. Federal Communications Law Journal, 53, 191-237. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org

Berry, J. (2002). Fear of information. Library Journal, 127(7). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/196849559?accountid=14656

Bravard, R. S. (1989). Actualities of regulating pornography. Collection Building, 9(2), 33-35.

Cannan, John (2010, June 15). United States: Washington State Supreme Court Upholds Library’s Internet Filtering Policy. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/united-states-washington-state-supreme-court-upholds-librarys-internet-filtering-policy/

Chambers, J., Halley, P., Hone, L., & Eberle, C. (204, August 6). E-rate Modernization [Webinar]. Retrieved from http://www.districtdispatch.org/2014/08/e-rate-never-sleeps/

Chmara, T. (2012). Library internet filtering update. Retrieved from http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ftrf.org/resource/resmgr/docs/libraryfilteringupdate_july_.pdf

Cohen, H & Minow, M. (2006). Intellectual freedom in libraries: Then and now. Advances in Librarianship, 30, 73-101. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2830(06)30002-5

Curry, A. (2000). What are public library customers viewing on the internet?: An analysis of Burnaby transaction logs. Submitted to the Burnaby Public Library.

Dilevko, J. & Gottlieb, L. (2004). Selection and cataloging of adult pornography web sites for academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 30(1), 36-50. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/drklr51&collection=journals&page=213

Estabrook, L. S. & Lakner, E. (2000). Managing internet access: Results of a national survey. American Libraries, 31(8). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25637759

Hougton-Jan, S. (2010). Internet Filtering. Library Technology Reports, 46(8), 25-33. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=503003767&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Laughlin, G. K. (2003). Sex, lies, and library cards: The First Amendment implications of the use of software filters to control access to internet pornography in public libraries. Drake Law Review, 51, 213-282. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org

Pautz, H. (2013). Managing access to the internet in public libraries. New Library World, 114, 308-318. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/1399602316?accountid=14656

Pors, N. (2001). Misbehaviour in the public library: internet use, filtering, and difficult people. New Library World, 102(9), 309-313. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000005899

Skaggs, J. (2003). Burning the library to roast the pig? Online pornography and internet filtering in the free public library. Brooklyn Law Review, 68(3), 809-852. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/brklr68&collection=journals&page=809

Spacey, R., Cooke, L., Muir, A. & Creaser, C. (2014). Regulating use of the internet in public libraries: A review. Journal of Documentation, 70, 478-497. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JD-02-2013-0021

Theyer, H. (2000). A librarian's right to comfort. American Libraries, 31(6). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25637669

Trushina, I. (2004). Freedom of access: ethical dilemma for internet librarians. The electronic library, 22(5), 416-421. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/02640470410561938

Wardak, L. (2003). Internet filters & the First Amendment. Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, 35, 657-735. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org

Young, G. (2003). No smut at work, please. National Law Journal. Retrieved from http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=900005393712/No-smut-at-work-please?slreturn=20150113192910