This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

February 4, 2004 - HB 1004

Ayn Rand, author of "The Fountainhead," and "Atlas Shrugged," eloquent spokesperson and passionate defender of laissez faire capitalism, once made a provocative statement about government.

The paraphrased version is this: Liberals view government as a tool to regulate business; conservatives as a tool to regulate private behavior. Why? Because each of them is seeking to control the activity they think is most important.

Isn't that fascinating? First, it turns the usual liberal/conservative contrast on its head. We think of conservatives as the party of business; liberals as the party of the people. Rand illuminates the nasty little truth in the middle: both sides want their hands on governmental control to keep the other side in line.

One way to size up what YOU think is important is to admit which one scares you the most. Are you more afraid of a company dumping various poisons into the air or water, or what your neighbors might be doing in their homes when they think nobody is looking?

On the one hand, you may feel that pollution is the more objective, measurable danger.

On the other hand, you may feel that your neighbors, indulging in something morally suspect, pose the greater threat to society.

Then there's all the messy ground in the middle. I'm thinking about proposed Colorado House Bill 1004, an attempt to use the force of government to compel public libraries to filter any library terminal that a child (under 17) might have access to. Of course, those are the same terminals that adults use.

The irony in this attempt is that a recent Supreme Court decision found that recipients of federal funds may be required to filter library terminals; accept the money, you accept the conditions attached to it.

But the State of Colorado provides no direct money to public libraries. As I noted last week, in the past 3 years it has cut 87% of the modest library programs it did provide.

Placing a condition on libraries after REDUCING their funding is one step worse than what used to be called "an unfunded mandate." Library computers were purchased with local funds, installed with local funds, and their use is governed by local policy, set by local laypeople. But that doesn't suit the State.

Incidentally, this is the third Internet filtering bill to be imposed on libraries in as many years. Let's review: in 3 years, a drastic cut of library funding, and a sharp increase in attempts to control public content. It's a worrisome pattern.

A second irony involves how the filters will work. It's certainly true that there is a lot of unsavory stuff on the Internet. But it's also true that libraries have spent a great deal of time and money addressing that problem. How? By ADDING value.

You've surely Googled up some data on a legitimate topic, only to find that you got a useless hodgepodge of ill-focused advertisements. So you asked a librarian for help.

And we showed you how to call up one of our many commercial databases, featuring top-of-the-line indexes and full text from a host of well-written, well-researched sources that have been thoroughly reviewed and vetted by experts. That's librarianship at work: helping you find the good stuff by pointing to it, not by trying to squelch everything else.

But guess what? The filters the state wants us to use would apply to THOSE materials, too. If the filter blocks the word "pot," for instance, then you can no longer look up information on Indian pottery. If the word is "gay," then farewell Gay 'Nineties. And of course, with filtering products, you have no idea which terms are blocked, or why, or who picked them.

So first we spend your money on top-quality information. Then we're supposed to spend more of your money to prevent you from seeing that information.

Technically, of course, filtering only applies to minors. If you're an adult, you can ask us to turn it off. But the default is "on." For everybody.

I should say that the bill is still being reworked. The House sponsor has shown some sensitivity to both library concerns and those of sexual victims (public libraries are one of the few public conduits to Internet-based resources for rape and incest victims -- resources often blocked by filters).

I've never much cared for the terms liberal or conservative. Too often, adopting these labels is just an excuse to avoid thinking about the specifics of an issue. But I do have a definite opinion about this topic.

I am NOT afraid of information. That's the whole point to a library. I AM afraid of people who want to tell us how we should spend our own money, the better to remain ignorant.

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