Appropriate use

March 27, 2008 at 10:05 pm 4 comments

This is going to be a short entry because I’d really like to start some discussion more than expound on my own thoughts right away, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about acceptable use policies for school libraries. In the past two semesters I’ve visited schools that really hit both ends of the spectrum, from a private high school with no acceptable use policy (although they do have bandwidth restrictions for downloads) to a public high school with certain websites blocked by the district.

In the latter, the head librarian has made it clear to me that “One of the library expectations is that library resources will be used only for schoolwork.” Thus, in his mind, activities like surfing the web, online shopping, or visiting chat rooms are off-limits. (And according to the district, social networking and YouTube are off-limits, though on several occasions I’ve seen kids on MySpace or watching videos, so I’m not really sure how effective that policy is!)

Now, I’m well aware of the reasoning behind blocking certain kinds of websites, and there are several areas where firewall-happy librarians and I probably agree. For instance, I don’t think porn has a place in a school library setting. (Of course, even this is a tricky one, as some blocking software intended to filter “adult” material can also make it harder, say, to research topics like breast cancer.) And while I do think that chat rooms can be very valuable tools–what better way to interview someone across the country?–I understand that they make adults nervous, and I suppose a case could be made for frowning upon them.

Where I struggle, though, is in two areas. First, the idea of just blocking or forbidding certain kinds of sites without real discussion–these are the rules, you will follow them–makes me really uncomfortable. Aren’t kids actually smart enough to figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not? Couldn’t we trust them enough to have some kind of dialogue together at the beginning of the year, and have kids and educators working together to create an acceptable use policy?

Secondly, I have a real problem with generalizing that web-surfing is always useless. Any kind of internet activity can build information literacy skills. Visiting any website means reading, often writing, processing information, and often interacting with others. Should we prevent teens from writing in personal blogs? Why is that different from keeping a journal for English class? Can’t we talk about language and syntax and taxonomy by letting students use Flickr and LibraryThing?


Entry filed under: Education. Tags: , , , , , .

Commitment to Learning Encouraging social competencies

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dan Kleinman  |  March 28, 2008 at 6:31 am

    “(Of course, even this is a tricky one, as some blocking software intended to filter “adult” material can also make it harder, say, to research topics like breast cancer.)”


    ACLU v. Gonzales, E.D. Pa., March 2007 [ACLU expert and court agrees Internet filters are about 95% effective and no longer block out breast cancer and other health-related information—so effective that another law, COPA [Children’s Online Protection Act], was found unconstitutional].

  • 2. Becky  |  March 28, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve been struggling with acceptable use policies, too. I’m starting a “blocked box” in the library so students can report when they are blocked from a website that they need for research (our IT guy can unblock them).

    But I agree with you! Why can’t students looking to buy a new pair of sneakers go online and compare prices? Why can’t they do fantasy sports (as long as no betting is involved)? Certainly in a school with limited resources, I think that students looking to research or type an essay should be given priority over students doing non-school related work, but I just don’t see the harm in allowing them to have discretion over the content of their web browsing. I mean, we allow fiction in the library, right? And magazines? We try to encourage reading for pleasure, right? I’m just not sure how blogs or online magazines are different from that.

    Kids are so plugged in to the internet at home, it’s just unrealistic to think that they treat school computers as completely different machines than what they have at home. We definitely need some better solutions.

  • 3. pandanose  |  March 28, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Interesting info, Dan, but the comment below yours shows that the 5% is still causing some trouble for students.

    Becky, does your library/school have a strict policy? I’m always curious because I know some librarians find ways to get around policies, but then they’re in an awkward position.

    What’s really frustrating to me is the idea that school libraries support reading for pleasure but many librarians still don’t view online reading as reading. What’s the difference between a kid finding his game stats in the Globe sports section and finding them on

  • 4. Linda  |  March 28, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    There’s something that seems to get lost in school admin discussions on this topic and that’s by giving teens the chance to surf, blog, etc. in the school we/teachers have a better opportunity to help them be smart and safe users of the technology. (Just like if we don’t teach sex education in school then students won’t want to have sex.) If we keep them away from the current tech through acceptable use policies we lose great opportunities for teaching ethical and smart use.

    Don’t you also think that some of this has to do with the fact that teachers don’t always know how to use the tech and feel too overwhelmed/overworked to learn it? That means that if students get to use the tech the teachers either have to learn it from the students or take time to learn it themselves?


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