Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this final full week of January:
- Filtering law: Librarians' views
- Family Tech: For keeping track of kids
- A subscriber writes: Internet in the wings
- Web News Briefs: Violence in games; New breed of search engines; 'Web rage'?; Tech & women; Email home from school; Major in computer games?…
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Web filtering: Librarians' views
When it comes to the Internet-filtering question, Montana public libraries are not unique. Like all public libraries in the United States, they're right at the intersection of free-speech rights and their own communities' interests. Providing Internet access hasn't changed that, but it has definitely made life even more interesting for librarians! Especially now that there's a law requiring Internet filtering in libraries that receive federal funding for Net connectivity (see our report last week, "ALA & the filtering law").
"I, a librarian, hope [the law] is overturned," said Alice Meister, director of the Bozeman (Mont.) Public Library, "because it will limit so many of us who have federal funds coming in and because no technology is perfect, as we all know. The law takes away that choice and limits what people are able to find. I'm definitely not in favor of it."
The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law last month, is problematic by anyone's measure. Among other things…
- CIPA asks of filtering what it can't do (block images and block only objectionable content) - at least not yet. "If you can give me a filter that protects free speech and screens out obscene material, I'm all for it," Jim Heckel told us, saying that no such technology exists. Jim is director of the Great Falls Public Library. According to the New York Times , the law's detractors say only the courts can determine what is obscene or objectionable, not software companies with their "automated censorship." Its supporters say schools and libraries can decide for themselves - if they choose not to take the funding to which the law is attaching conditions.
- CIPA cancels out any previous, sometimes hard-fought, local initiatives schools and libraries have taken - surveys of library patrons, school boards' decisions about filtering based on grade level, community referenda, acceptable-use policies, etc.
- And the law is being challenged on constitutional grounds by organizations that have successfully challenged previous federal laws aimed at protecting online kids, including the Communications Decency Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 1997 (CIPA's authors say this latest challenge, too, will probably go to the Supreme Court).
We called Alice Meister about all this because the Bozeman library had recently finished one of those local initiatives the law would jettison: a survey of its patrons about kids and Internet access (for some of the library users' most interesting comments, see this page).
From the survey, the library could tell that "obviously there was concern out there," Alice said, "so we decided to offer parents and children the choice of a filtered search." They put a children's home page on connected computers in the children's area with links to filtered search engines and library-approved sites for kids and teens (here's what it looks like). "It seemed like a good compromise," Alice told us, "because it offered a choice and didn't impose filtering, and I see the library as a place of choices, so it continues in that tradition." The computers in the children's area were also deliberately placed close to the librarian's desk, and librarians walk by computer screens a lot more than they used to.
But the most important activity in all this, Alice indicated, is Internet education - for parents! The library periodically provides Internet classes for parents and kids to take together, and librarians are always ready to help whenever Net-using patrons have questions.
Further north in Great Falls, the public library has an Internet-use agreement that parents sign and children have to show in order to access the Net at the library - in addition to a children's home page on computers in the kids' books section.
"It should be a local issue," said Great Falls library director Jim Heckel. "All the public libraries in Montana have local policies. We've had Internet access in my library for five or six years - we were one of first in the state. During that time I've dealt with complaints from two or three people."
Jim added, "You've got this incredible cornucopia of information available to you without the constraints that society normally imposes. It's a new way of looking at information. From my personal point of view, and that of most of my colleagues, I think," Jim added, "ideally there would be a way to separate the bad from the good [on the Internet], if you will. The problem is deciding what's good and what's bad. There are a variety of interpretations."
There's the rub - the reason why laws like CIPA keep ending up in federal court. As for the problem of what kids can be exposed to on computers with unrestricted access, you'll see conflicting answers even from among the patrons of a single library, in Bozeman's survey.
When we asked Alice about this her response was, "We believe we're not in loco parentis - it's up to the parents to give their children that instruction and grounding. They're going to be given these choices in the real world as well, and they have to learn what's appropriate and inappropriate. That's not our place; we're not the moral instructors, but we do try to help parents, give them the home page, give them instructions, as much as the one-on-one instruction we give children here in the library. We find that works well."
Subscribers, what's your view on what your local libraries' policies are or should be? Of course we'd also love to hear from non-North American subscribers who have other types of public spaces where Net access is available - what should be done, if anything, to protect the public from obscene material, and who defines "obscene" or "objectionable for children" in your country?
For further information, here are some related links:
- The American Library Association's page on CIPA, including info on next steps for libraries and links to the FCC's notice on rulemaking (this is the agency that enforces the law) and the full text of the law.
- The FCC's Web form for filing comments on implementation of the law. The request for comment came out Jan. 23; citizens have just 15 days from then to comment.
- Early guidance on CIPA compliance from the Consortium for School Networking. (A more recent document has been written, but it's not yet on the Web - email us if you'd like a copy.)
- Montana library patrons' views on kids and the Internet.
- A study: "Impacts of the Internet on Public Library Use", a survey by the Evanston, IL-based Urban Libraries Council, an association of urban public libraries.
- From this week's news: A look-ahead at the new administration and online pornography from ZDNet (includes a description of the "federal government's three-part test to define what is and isn't obscene").
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Family Tech: For keeping track of kids
Sometimes it's just plain fun to read Larry Magid's Family Tech column. This week SafeKids.com's founder gives us insights into the Palo Alto, Calif., high school scene while writing about how "Cell phones, pagers help parents keep track of the kids" (in the San Jose Mercury News).
At one time pagers and cell phones in school were problematic. Not anymore, at least not at the big school Larry's daughter, Katherine, attends in Palo Alto. And the experience of another student there illustrates how important "pager etiquette" is becoming in school. Parents and teachers, if you want to understand one of the languages many students now speak, Larry links to a Web page at Motorola.com where you can learn the meanings of "pager codes" kids often use. And for the internationally minded, find out how advanced European teens' use of cell phones is.
And what has been your experience with kids and pagers/cell phones? If you're a teacher and you've found them disruptive in classes (or not), tell us about it! Parents, do you let your kids use them? If so, are you finding pagers good for family communications? We'd love to hear from Europe, too! You know the address: email@example.com.
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A subscriber writes: Internet in the wings
We think the way subscriber Bonny in Vermont uses the Internet is definitely not unusual, but tell us if you agree! Bonny emailed us:
"First let me say how much I appreciate your newsletter. I have enjoyed the info that you pass along. Now for my feedback…. In my house, we don't use the Internet every day, (I don't use my phone every day either), however I want it available when/if I do need to use it."
How much are you online a week? Do email us!
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Web News Briefs
- Violence in games: Penalties promised
It appears some legislative action will soon be taken in the US. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) today (Friday) vowed they'd "introduce legislation that would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to penalize companies that market violent video games to children, according to Newbytes.com. They made their announcement at a press conference where the National Institute on Media and the Family released its fifth-annual "Video and Computer Game Report Card". The Report Card found that, while the industry has adopted measures to help with marketing and ratings education, few retailers are doing anything to prevent kids from buying the games.
- New breed of search engines
Now there are two categories of search engines we should all know about: the "traditional" generalist search engines (e.g., Lycos.com, Google.com, Excite.com) and the new specialty search engines. The New York Times has some great examples of the latter for all kinds of searches: the latest news stories, financial data, photos, humor, and comparison shopping, etc. According to a software company called BrightPlanet (mentioned by the Times), the Web that the familiar old search engines can't access is 500 times larger than the "surface" Web that they do search (note that BrightPlanet sells search software that it says accesses those deeper, less accessible Web pages). To their credit, some of the "old" search engines are offering searches in sub-categories. For example, the Times reports, Google.com has search engine for information from US state and federal government sites; NorthernLight.com has a news service that 56 news wires; and AltaVista.com, Lycos.com, and Excite.com now offer searching of audio and video material.
- Technology: Women & men
At the start of their careers women make as much money as men in the technology industry, but the gap widens as careers progress. According to ZDNet, a survey of more than 100,000 tech professionals (82% of them men) by Techies.com, a Minneapolis-based career portal, found that women with 10 years or more of experience earned 9% less than male coworkers with the same credentials. ZDnet says a Techies.com analyst expects more comparable pay for veteran women IT workers in the near future.
Meanwhile, a study released this week found that young women entering college are not as confident of their computer and tech skills as their male peers are. According to Reuters (via the New York Times, the study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that - while there was a minimal gender gap in regular computer use - men were twice as likely as women to rate their skill level as above average. Also, Wired News maintains a collection of stories about women and technology.
- Email between home & school
Teachers are using email to discuss assignments, receive homework, and keep parents posted, according to the New York Times reports. Many teachers appreciate email for opening up a new channel of communication with parents, but hurdles to widespread adoption remain. They include teachers' busy schedules; schools not giving out teachers' addresses for liability reasons; and the digital divide, the fact that many students don't have Net connections at home.
Subscribers, how about you? Are you in touch with teachers (or parents) via email? Has it been a benefit in helping the students in your house or classroom? Do email us about your experience.
- New Canadian women's site
While American offerings like Oxygen.com and Women.com struggle, Canada's Rogers Media is making a bold move: Springboard.ca. According to Internet.com, the women's portal is expected to launch February 26, with channels on all the familiar women's topics: careers, parenting, home, food, and fitness, among others.
- Major in computer games?
A professor proposing that the University of California at Irvine offer a minor in computer games has hit a wave of resistance. According to Wired News, the proposal, by Robert Nideffer, an assistant professor of studio art, has already been turned down once, but Nideffer will resubmit this year. His view, reportedly, is that game production will benefit from serious academic study, and the program he's proposing is rigorous. Another professor said academia has always been reluctant to support the study of popular culture. Others say we need to know more about the impact of games on society (and that Nideffer's proposal is a step in that direction). What do you think? Do send comments!
- US's 'un-education system', tech's next step & other issues
In a wide-ranging talk in Dublin on the future of computing, IBM's top techie, senior VP Nicholas Donofrio, gave his view on the state of US education, reports Wired News. He also had some interesting things to say about the impact of voice recognition as the next big technological development and women in technology. On the latter, he said women "should be the leading solution to the skills shortage."
- What kids daydream about
The title of the 2000 Roper Youth Report brings some encouraging news: "Kids Daydream About What They Can Do, Not What They Can Buy, New Study Shows". And this is a trend, apparently, not just a static snapshot: "While being rich is still the No. 1 fantasy among kids 8-17, the allure of endless buying power seems to be waning," says the annual syndicated survey. The wealth fantasy is down nine points from that of 1995 (a five-year high at 65%) and the figure for 8-17-year-olds who "fantasize about helping those less fortunate" is up six points since '95 (to 37%). That figure (56%) is down nine points from 1995, when 65% was a five-year high. And "in the past year the proportion of six-to-seven-year-olds with altruistic fantasies jumped 11 points," the report said.
- Web-enabled birthday parties
There's hope for those of us in need of fresh inspiration for a child's next birthday party. In this fun New York Times piece, one mother tells how her 10-year-old daughter took matters into her own hands and planned her own party with the help of the Web. Daughter Ella checked out four birthday party e-commerce sites and her mom wrote up the pros and cons.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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