New CIPR Project: Assessing the Implementation of CIPA-Mandated Internet Filtering in U.S. Public Libraries

UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies professor Dr. Nadine Kozak and CIPR Director Dr. Michael Zimmer have received funding from the UW-Milwaukee “Research Growth Initiative” internal grant program to launch a new research project called: “Assessing the Implementation of CIPA-Mandated Internet Filtering in U.S. Public Libraries.”

From the project abstract:

Access to information is an essential human right and ensuring universal access to the internet has been recognized as a vital ingredient for fulfilling this human right. While libraries have emerged as a critical source of providing free internet access within the United States, legislation has threatened free and unfettered access to information online. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) mandates libraries filter internet access in certain circumstances. While many studies have assessed the efficacy of internet filters, we propose a large-scale investigation of how libraries are implementing CIPA-mandated filtering – along with the legal exception to remove the filters for adults on-demand – to better understand the impact of CIPA “as applied” within library settings.

We are particularly interested in investigating three central issues related to CIPA-mandating filtering. First, what kind of (formal and informal) procedures are in place at libraries to turn off internet filtering when requested by an adult patron; second, how do these procedures play out “on the ground” when librarians are faced with such patron requests; and third, what are the technical complexities in honoring such a request (i.e., can filtering software be modified for a particular computer only, can the filters be modified only for the specific need requested, can the modification be made at the physical location of the library in question, etc.).

To begin exploring these issues, our pilot study will focus on libraries within a 100-mile radius of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which are required to be CIPA-compliant due to the acceptance of E-Rate funding. We will conduct in-person, unstructured interviews with various institutional actors at each library, including the library director, staff librarians who receive requests from patrons to remove internet filters, and system administrators who maintain the filtering software. The interview questions will focus on gaining a better understanding of how particular libraries chose to apply for E-Rate funding and be required to filter internet access as well as an understanding of the process through which filtering software is turned off in the event that an adult patron requests it. In addition to creating publishable research, the initial interviews will inform the creation of a survey instrument to be used in a national survey of CIPA-compliance at U.S. libraries.

The project will be housed at the UW-Milwaukee Center for Information Policy Research, and will run from July 2017 through December 2018.