Net Neutrality and the Library Bill of Rights
By: Rebecca Slocum
I don’t know about everyone else, but my social media recently has been blowing up about net neutrality. There are informational articles and impassioned pleas to contact your congressperson. There are form letters to send and petitions to sign. There are videos and web comics. So, since we’ve likely all seen, read and heard these postings, I won’t go into detail about the definition of net neutrality. Instead, I want to talk about how net neutrality is essential to libraries. To do this, I’m going to go through each article in the Library Bill of Rights and highlight how net neutrality helps us as librarians and book lovers to uphold intellectual freedom.
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
“Other library resources” includes online resources- databases, websites, videos, ect. Librarians do not apply filters to exclude resources based on the above characteristics. Currently, net neutrality requires Internet Service Providers (ISP) — such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon — to treat all information equally in terms of making it available to the online community. If net neutrality were repealed, ISPs could choose what information is available online. They could censor certain websites, either by slowing down the traffic or blocking it completely; they could also favor certain websites that align with their viewpoints or require uses to pay extra money for the privilege of a faster connection. An example of content being removed occurred in 2007 during a Pearl Jam concert. AT&T, who was live streaming the event, censored lead singer Eddie Vedder by turning off the sound when he made some controversial political comments.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
Not only should libraries not exclude materials based on content or authorship, they should also ensure that the materials available represent a balanced view of today’s society. This includes intentionally selecting materials that represent the LGBTQ community, all races, varied political viewpoints, and controversial topics and ideas. Repealing net neutrality puts the power of what is available online in the hands of ISPs, of which there are only a handful, and none owned by or representing these marginalized communities. These groups depend on a free and open internet to make their voices heard.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide
information and enlightenment.
Repealing net neutrality allows ISPs to censor the internet. Censorship prevents information from being made available to the public. Censorship prevents diverse and varying viewpoints from being heard. Censorship prevents us from learning and evolving as a society.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
Supporting net neutrality and its regulations on ISPs allows for and helps every library user to continue to have free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age,
background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or
affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Many people, especially low-income families, depend on their local library for free and open access to the internet. In addition, homes and businesses often only have one or two broadband options available to them. If ISPs were to charge libraries and other customers more for access to certain resources, such as websites they may deem controversial, libraries might not have the public funds to pay for these “premium” services. So while these patrons may not be denied access to the physical library and its spaces, they could be denied a balanced view of online resources.
Now is when I ask for your help. Repealing net neutrality allows ISPs and major corporations to use power and money to influence what materials are available online. These regulations are essential to the foundation upon which libraries were built. Do you like having equitable and open access to whatever you want to view online? Call your congressperson. Email. Write. Send a smoke signal. Let them know you support the free exchange of ideas and information. Let them know that you support intellectual freedom. Let them know that you support net neutrality.
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last five years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.
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