Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Norfolk Library and Information Service

Summary

Internet access is possible in a range of environments—a one size filtering solution will not fit them all.

Most library services already have internet filtering mechanisms in place.

National standard needed to determine what type of information is acceptable in age bands—schools, parents, internet industry and filtering software providers will all need to sign up to it.

Standards will need to apply to volunteer run libraries, who may not have the necessary expertise.

Evidence

1. There are a number of possible environments where children can access information online:

Home.

School.

Library Computer or authenticated library wifi access.

Internet café.

Open access public wifi hotspot (including in libraries).

Authenticated access public wifi hotspot.

Any recommendations will need to reflect on the conditions that apply in each environment—not all conclusions can or should necessarily be applicable in all environments.

2. Further comments will be restricted to internet access in libraries.

3. Library services should be able to identify who is logging onto a public computer or authenticating onto their library wifi access. In Norfolk this is achieved through the use of a borrower umber and PIN combination. This means that it should be possible to require library customers to agree to abide by an Acceptable Use Policy, which among other things would include agreement not to access sites or material that is “is obscene, racist, defamatory or otherwise unlawful, or that would cause harassment or gross offence to others”.

4. It is then possible to withdraw internet access privileges if this agreement is breached.

5. To prevent breaches, most library services subscribe to an internet filtering service, which is configured to prevent access to sites falling into a range of categories. In Norfolk, this is the same product that is used for filtering staff internet access, so any product must be capable of handling more than one filtering regime profile.

6. We use the same filtering product for our public wifi access in libraries as we do on static computers, although we believe this is by no means a common feature in other library authorities.

7. Different filtering products categorise sites differently, so application of a national standard will be difficult—filtering service providers regard their classification methodologies as commercially confidential.

8. Filtering is applied at the site level, not at the content level. It is therefore not currently possible to block adult video content on YouTube without blocking all video content.

9. YouTube is the default hosting service for all Norfolk County Council public video content, so any idea of a national block on providing access to YouTube in libraries would have significant impact on the delivery and distribution of information about council services.

10. Norfolk Library and Information Services would like to see all websites that do or may host adult material to be required to hold it in an easily identifiable section of their site, so filtering software rules can be applied.

Norfolk Library and Information Service do not currently make any distinction about what a customer can access, within the bounds of our acceptable use policy, based on age.

This is largely because there is no national standard about what is and isn’t acceptable within each age range, or even what those age ranges should be.

Our current age categories for borrowing books are:

Under 5
5–11
12–15
16–18
Over 18

11. Norfolk Library and Information Service does not view it as the responsibility of a local library service to determine what is acceptable at each age, nor do we have the resources to do so—that should be set nationally and applied consistently across all filtering services so no local variation is possible.

12. Norfolk Library and Information Service does currently view it as the responsibility of the parent or guardian to monitor and control the internet activity of their children while they are on library premises. Our safeguarding policy states that no children under the age of 8 should be in a library unaccompanied.

13. Having said that, use of computers in libraries in Norfolk by children and young people is not that high, according to our usage statistics. However, as more free public wifi is rolled out across Norfolk, we may find the proportion of children accessing the internet across our wifi network (and hence our filtering regime) but on their own devices increases.

14. Access to social media sites is one of the most popular uses of uses of public computers and is used by customers to keep in touch with their friends and family across the world. Any recommendation to filter out use of social media sites in public libraries would have a severe impact on the positive benefits of social networking for library customers. For this reason we would be opposed to the principle of blocking internet access to social media sites in libraries.

15. Management of a filtered internet service requires resources and a degree of technical expertise to provide it. This is a skill set that will probably be unavailable to most groups who may wish to take over the running of a local library service on a voluntary basis.

There should therefore be a commitment that the local authority will make sufficient funding available to continue to provide a comprehensive and secure IT infrastructure in volunteer run libraries. This will also help to support the Government’s Digital by Default policy.

September 2013

Prepared 18th March 2014