Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Internet Censorship and Libraries

A picture of a child covering their eyes while looking at a laptop computer.

In recent years, schools and libraries have been the target of extreme censorship attacks concerning the materials they house. Children and teens are primarily affected by these attacks, as it limits what information they can freely access at any given time. The problem we face in these battles is determining who has the authority to decide what is objectionable versus what isn’t.

But what happens when these attacks occur beyond the scope of reading materials and start to affect other information access points? As librarians, we must inform ourselves regarding censorship in other forms, especially concerning our youngest patrons.

Read more: Internet Censorship and Libraries

Censorship and the Internet:

A picture of a laptop computer with the words "Access Denied" superimposed over the top.

Internet censorship is one of the more underhanded forms of censorship that happen on a day-to-day basis, often without people even knowing it exists. The internet is a vast communication and information network, and industries, organizations, and people work to control access to that information through various means, most of which are done behind the scenes.

Forms of Internet Censorship:

  • Blocking and filtering information, either through commercial blocking software or through requests to remove access to specific content.
  • Blocking Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, as seen through geoblocking, where access is restricted due to geographical location (such as in North Korea).
  • Search result removal, where major information portals, such as search engines, remove access to certain websites that would typically be included, usually at the discretion of the portal. 
  • Denial-of-service (DNS) attacks are cyber attacks that indefinitely disrupt services by flooding the resource with access requests to overload the system.
  • Network Disconnection is when access to the internet is wholly cut off.
  • Deplatforming, where controversial speakers are suspended, banned, or otherwise shut down by platforms that generally allow for freedom of speech.
  • Content removal, when content can be flagged and removed if it violates community content guidelines, often at the sole discretion of the service operator.

There is also very little governmental oversight and regulation pertaining to open access Internet. Organizations can manipulate access to information with almost no accountability, and in some cases, without us knowing. There is no guarantee that our access is truly open, with all forms of information taking equal precedence.

Internet Censorship and Libraries:

A picture of a child sitting in front of a desktop computer.

While libraries strive to provide open access to their patrons, the reality is that we often are required to censor information – usually based on patron age. It is rare to enter a library that does not employ some form of filtering software on its computers and prohibits patrons from accessing certain websites. Children are primarily affected by these filtering systems due to what the software or the library deems is “appropriate” information for them to view. While these prevent children from viewing certain things that are genuinely unsuitable, there are more instances of them not being able to access the information they need.

For example, at my library, I was recently tasked with reviewing our current filtering levels for children and teens and making recommendations to our administration. When I saw the list of information filtered out for children and teens, I was surprised. Using a series of categories and subcategories, information that pertained to advocacy groups and social justice, sex education and abortion, certain religions, information about LGBTQIA+ issues, and more had been blocked to children and teens. Information on these issues can be accessed through books and other materials in our juvenile and teen collections, so why were we imposing an age restriction for internet content on these topics?

The answer was simple: We had aligned internet access with our patron’s codes in our ILS. Juvenile/teen cards received juvenile/teen access, and adult cards received adult access, effectively taking the decision out of our patrons’ hands. Since that discovery, we have looked at ways to allow our patrons more of a say in how they and their children are able to access internet information, placing the onus of restriction on them, as opposed to the library actively censoring information by default.

It’s Not Going Away…

As this current wave of censorship affects our libraries, we must also be aware of potential censorship issues in our internet policies. Children and teens tend to get targeted because of their age, and blanket policies are enacted with minimal regard to their individual right to access information. I strongly urge libraries and library staff to review current policies surrounding how children and teens can access the internet and work towards providing a more open experience for them.

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Katie Talhelm is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and is the Library Service Manager for Youth Services with the Arlington Public Library in Arlington, TX. Katie oversees programs, resources, and services for children and teens in the Arlington community and the surrounding areas as part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.


This blog post relates to the ALSC Core Competencies of: I. Commitment to Client Group and II. Reference and User Services.

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