Content filtering in UK public libraries

  • Payne, Daniel (Researcher)
  • Lawson, Stuart (Researcher)
  • Smith, Lauren, Radical Librarians Collective, (Researcher)
  • Arkle, Sarah (Researcher)
  • Gallagher, Jennifer (Researcher)
  • Richardson, Jo (Researcher)
  • Stephan, Katherine (Researcher)

Project: Non-funded projectResearch

Description

Most local authorities / bodies running library services in the UK block websites using third-party content filtering software. This software offers various categories of filtering (eg. "pornography", "gambling", "weapons" etc.) and a local authority/body selects which of these categories it would like to block. In some instances, they will also block specific URLs.

A group of volunteers sent identical requests to public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland). Seven questions were asked to ascertain the extent of public authorities' filtering decisions, and these responses were tracked and made public via the website http://www.whatdotheyknow.com.

Key findings

The results are still being analysed in preparation for a journal article. Some of the initial findings are:
At least 98% of public libraries filter categories.
This list of categories differs between each council, and includes categories such as “Abortion”, “LGBT”, ”alternative lifestyles”, “questionable”, “tasteless”, “payday loans”, “discrimination”, “self-help”and “sex education”.
56% also block URLs in addition to categories.
The privatisation of the IT services of some councils means they were under no obligation to provide this information since the FOI Act only applies to public authorities, and indeed, didn’t.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/09/1531/03/16

Keywords

  • filtering
  • access to information
  • censorship
  • public libraries
  • internet
  • blocking