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Access to Electronic Information, Services, and Networks:
A Nebraska Library Commission Interpretation
March 1997

Intellectual freedom is freedom of expression which encompasses the freedom of speech and the corollary right to receive information. These rights extend to minors as well as adults. Librarians address intellectual freedom from a strong ethical base and an abiding commitment to the preservation of the individual's rights. Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the foundation for self-government.

Nebraska libraries and librarians exist to facilitate the exercise of these rights by selecting, producing, providing access to, identifying, retrieving, organizing, providing instruction in the use of, and preserving recorded expression regardless of the format or technology. The library professional links people with information, knowledge, opinions and stories. The library professional does not block people from knowledge.

Providing connections to global information, services, and networks is not the same as selecting and purchasing material for a library collection. Determining the accuracy or authenticity of electronic information may present special problems. Some information accessed electronically may not meet a library's selection or collection development policy. It is left to each user to determine what is appropriate.

Parents and legal guardians who are concerned about their children's use of electronic resources should provide guidance to their own children. Nebraska libraries and librarians should not deny or limit access to information available via electronic resources because of its allegedly controversial content or because of the librarian's personal beliefs or fear of confrontation.

In February 1996, as part of the Federal Telecommunications Act, the Communications Decency Act was passed. The Act stated that any person who knowingly sends or displays materials over the Internet to minors that could be interpreted as "indecent" or "patently offensive by contemporary community standards" could be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to $250,000.

On June 12, 1996, in a suit filed by the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation, online providers, publishers, parents and other groups, a special panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia ruled the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional . The judges agreed that:

  • The Internet is a unique new communications medium that deserves free speech protection, at least as broad as that enjoyed by the print medium in our democracy.
  • Individual families, not the government, should decide what is appropriate for their children on the Internet.
On June 26, 1997 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was unconstitutional, because if enforced, the law would have limited communication on the Internet to what is suitable for minors.
Sources:
  • Nebraska Intellectual Freedom Handbook . Intellectual Freedom Committee, Nebraska Library Association; Nebraska Library Commission, Summer 2004 [obsolete link removed].
  • Intellectual Freedom Manual. American Library Association, 1996
  • American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom. Chicago, IL, 312-280-4224.

Endorsed by the State Advisory Council on Libraries - September 1997
Approved by the Nebraska Library Commission by roll-call vote at their meeting on November 11, 1997