Censoring the web: mapping content filtering in UK public libraries - Daniel Payne, Stuart Lawson, Jennifer Gallagher & Lauren Smith
Censoring the Web:
mapping content filtering in
UK public libraries
Daniel Payne, Stuart Lawson, Jennifer Gallagher, Lauren Smith
Radical Librarians Collective
Daniel (@politicscurator d.payne1@Lse.ac.uk ),
1. Background – why did the project happen?
2. Existing research
3. The project and method
4. The results
5. Implications and recommendations
What is content
What are the three most blocked categories
at public libraries in the UK?
What is the Radical Librarians Collective?
• Radical Librarians Collective (RLC - @RadicaLibs) emerged back in
late Spring 2013
• An “umbrella title for a freely associating collective of autonomous,
politically-conscious librarians and information workers” (Lawson,
Sandes, & Smith 2015)
• In reality, what happened was a few librarians started discussing on
social media how to counteract the growth of neoliberal ideas and
language within libraries.
How did we do it?
• Freedom of Information Act
• “What do they know”: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/
• Email and a Google doc spreadsheet
1. Do you block?
2. Name and cost?
3. List of categories for different user profiles
6. Requests for access
7. No. denied / granted
The questions we asked
What did we find out?
• 98% filter by category (however…)
• 56% also block URLs.
• Vast majority don’t have a written policy available.
The variety of categories blocked?
Abortion, LGBT, phishing, fishing, extreme, questionable, alcohol,
tobacco, drugs, violence, gambling, sex, art-nudes, lingerie, swimsuits,
discrimination, explicit art, sexuality, alternative lifestyles,
pornography, hate, intolerance, gore, gambling, tasteless, unethical,
pay day loans, terrorism, marijuana, bullying, intimate apparel, body
piercing and tattoos, the occult, sex education, self-harm, weapons,
non-pornographic nudity, dubious, unsavoury, alternative beliefs,
historical revisionism, non traditional religions, controversial opinions,
“sites beyond the realm of ordinary understanding”,
• FOI request
• Policy and procedure document
• IT services contracted out
• Time and duplication
Four thoughts from the results
1. Who makes these decisions and why do they make them?
1.Why is there different filtering according to your location and are
we okay with this?
3. Prompt a discussion about filtering in the profession and raise
4. What’s next...
Why does filtering happen?
- Broad brush
- Prevents access
- Decision-making and info lit: “Blocking… is not an effective way
to...empower people to make their own judgements about material
they are inevitably going to encounter at some point in their lives”
Daniel Payne (@politicscurator, email@example.com)
“Info Literacy has a dark underbelly which is called the paywall”
- Char Booth, LILAC
….also content filtering software!!