One of the biggest challenges when it comes to regulating sexually-explicit material online is how to filter out the stuff you don’t want without also losing the stuff you want to keep. For example, if you filter porn websites that contain the word “breast”, you’re likely to also filter sites with information on breast cancer or, for that matter, cooking chicken. It’s a tricky thing.
It gets more complex when we’re talking about computers at libraries. Some people want to avoid the possibility that children could come into contact with sexual material (including, but not limited to porn), while others support adults’ abilities to view whatever material they wish, as long as it doesn’t impinge upon others. (Here’s a great page on the topic, btw.)
Since libraries need to find a balance between these competing goals, under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), they are required to have filtering software to prevent minor’s access to “harmful content.” (I highly recommend Levine’s book Harmful to Minors for an excellent analysis of the impact of “protecting” children form sex.) But there isn’t a consistent definitely of “harmful content” and different filtering software blocks different websites, some of which are educational or information rather than pornographic. That means that there is inconsistent access to valuable information.
To address that, the Sexuality Information Access in U.S. Public Libraries project is asking people to help out. All you need to do is go to your library and access their website here. They have a list of websites on a range of topics, from sex work to abortion to condoms and all they need to know is whether you can access those sites at the library. They also ask you to go to your favorite search engine and see if you can run a search for words like abortion, anal,or transsexual. Since some libraries will block their site, you can also print out the survey, circle the answers and enter the info at home.
This is an excellent application of crowdsourcing and it has the potential to give us some solid information about who has access to what types of sex education. Please take a moment during your next trip to the library and help these folks out. And pass this along to anyone who could participate- the more information we have, the better.