Throughout this past spring and summer, we have observed more and more truth in that old saw that the process of making laws is like making sausage. Throw just about anything in and make it look nice coming out the other end of the grinder. At least lawmaking seems like that, in the midst of watching the filtering wars and the fights to preserve the cherished traditions of public access to government information through the Government Printing Office.
The Library Issues
In the April/May/June issue of Virginia Libraries, I noted that there are four major elements that provide the context for everything Congress does this year, from library legislation to speaking out on Elian Gonzalez. These elements are the "magic six seats" which will determine who has control of Congress, the presidential campaign, the budget/appropriations cycle, and the economy.
The major library issues facing Congress this year are appropriations, database protection legislation, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and Internet access management. The previous update focused on appropriations and database protection legislation. The biggest battle on appropriations is the funding of the Government Printing Office and the Federal Depository Library Program. Database protection legislation has not flared up as an issue. This update provides greater detail on ESEA reauthorization and Internet access management.
The Elementary and Secondary Educational Act (ESEA) was signed by President Johnson on 11 April 1965 outside the one-room schoolhouse he attended as a child.1 ESEA was the primary educational law Johnson used to target funding for the redress of inequities in education based on poverty and race. In addition, this law provided funding for broad initiatives including funding for educational materials such as books and audiovisual materials for school libraries. ESEA comes up for reauthorization every five to six years. The last reauthorization of ESEA was called the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994. It included a section to dedicate funds to school library media resources; however, this section was never funded and was deleted in 1996.2
With ESEA up for reauthorization again this year, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Representative Major Owens (D-NY) have offered amendments which would restore direct funding for resources for school libraries (S. 1262 and H.R. 3008 respectively). These amendments, both known as the Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Resources, Training, and Advanced Technology Assistance Act, would begin to meet the need for books, technology, and staff training. For more information, review the issue briefs "ESEA Reauthorization and School Library Media Resources Bills: S. 1262 and H.R. 3008" and "Partner in Learning: The School Library Media Center" at http://www.ala.org/washoff/esea.html.
At the briefing the day before Legislative Day this spring, Keith Lance, Director of the Library Research Service at the Colorado Department of Education, demonstrated why school media resources, including materials and trained specialists, are important to a successful education. The key finding of a three year research study of Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Colorado schools is that school library media specialists do make a difference in students' educational achievement. The study controlled for community differences: the positive effects of library media programs cannot be explained away by teacher-pupil ratios, per pupil expenditures, the educational attainment of parents or guardians within the household, or any other variable. In other words, excellence in school library media programs is important to the educational goals of our nation.
Therefore, as stated in Fast Facts: Recent Statistics from the Library Research Service, "Library media programs should be funded to have adequate professional and support staff, information resources, and information technology. Such conditions are necessary if not sufficient alone to generate higher levels of academic achievement."3 Our message to Congress is that, in a very cost-effective way, this amendment will strengthen our efforts to enhance student achievement.
Internet Access Management (Federal v. Local Control)
Over the past few years, we have rebutted and withstood the efforts of some members of the Virginia General Assembly to force localities to use Internet filters. The library community successfully explained and demonstrated that local control is preferable to and more effective than state level filtering mandates. As a result, schools and libraries in Virginia are required to have Internet access policies, but are not required to install filters.
We continue, in the same vein, to stave off the efforts of some members of Congress to require Internet filters. What we have been saying to our elected officials at all levels is that Internet access management is a complex matter best left to local decision-makers and that despite the political appeal of filters, they are not simple and straightforward devices and they do not effectively accomplish our shared goal of enabling parents to protect their children from material that could be harmful to them. Typically, filtering legislation requires the installation and use of technology to filter or block obscene material, material deemed harmful to minors, and child pornography. The "harmful to minors" material is of course Constitutionally protected, whereas obscenity and child pornography are not. Legislators who propose filtering legislation do not seem to be concerned about protecting the rights of adult citizens to access the "harmful to minors" material; they also seem to be unaware of or unconcerned about the fact that technology to do such blocking and only such blocking does not exist.
Legislation which would mandate filtering seems to come forward as regularly as the seasons. This spring and summer, the crop of onerous legislation has come primarily from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Ernest Istook (R-OK). The better approach at the federal level is a bill sponsored by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), S. 1545, which would provide a local option: either install and use blocking and filtering software, or adopt Internet use policies. In its infinite wisdom, the Senate in late June passed both the McCain and the Santorum bills! Politics being politics, the votes were 95-3 for McCain's bill and 75-24 for Santorum's. Reconciling the inconsistencies became the responsibility of conference committees. These bills came as attachments to the Labor/Health & Human Services/ Education appropriations bill. The filtering requirement of Senator McCain's Children's Internet Protection Act, S. 97, ties the hands of those schools and libraries receiving e-rate money. E-rate money is the discount provided to schools and libraries, through the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which subsidizes the cost of accessing the Internet (wiring, connection charges, computer equipment, etc.). These funds have very effectively ensured that schools and libraries throughout the nation, even those in less affluent communities, have equal access to the Internet. The McCain bill would keep any school or library from receiving this money unless they install Internet filters. Santorum's Neighborhood Children's Protection Act, S. 1545, preserves local decision-making and respects the collective wisdom of the thousands of communities grappling with the issue and devising their own solutions, experimenting with different methods and developing "best practices" which can be shared library to library. Surely this is the American way.
The House also passed Representative Istook's bill "to require public schools and libraries that receive Federal funds for the acquisition or operation of computers to install software to protect children from obscenity" as an amendment (H.R. 4545) to the Health, Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. Finally, H.R. 4141, another bill to reauthorize portions of the ESEA, requires a "description of the applicant's Internet filtering or blocking technology and related enforcement policies" in the "Tech for Success" (Title III) section of ESEA.
By the time these words are in print and in your hands, the House and Senate will have begun to iron out the differences in their bills. As in Virginia, the best outcome for library customers would be no new law, second best would be a law preserving local control, and worst (a total nightmare, in fact, from the standpoint of administering, determining what type of filtering to use, preserving individual rights to Constitutionally protected information, etc.) would be a filtering mandate.
If you would like to receive regular updates on all federal issues affecting libraries, you may wish to subscribe to the ALA Washington Office Newsline (ALAWON) at http://www.ala.org/washoff/alawon/. Past issues of the newsline are also available at that URL. I regularly select ALAWON "Action Alerts" to send to a list of interested Virginia librarians, library staff, friends, and trustees. If you send me an e-mail at email@example.com, I will be happy to add your name to that list.
- Marvin C. Alkin, ed. in chief, Encyclopedia of Educational Research (New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992), v. 2, p. 495.
- "Issue Brief: ESEA Reauthorization and School Library Media Resources Bills: S. 1262 and H.R. 3008," American Library Association Washington Office, May 2000 (http://www.ala.org/washoff/esea.html, click "ESEA Reauthorization ..." for PDF file)
- Library Research Service, Colorado Department of Education, "Proof of the Power: A First Look at the Results of the Colorado Study ...and More!" Fast Facts: Recent Statistics from the Library Research Service No. 164, November 19, 1999 (.pdf file accessed 8/21/2000 at http://www.lrs.org/html/fast_facts_ 1999.html)