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The Official Website of Andrew Vachss

Back in November, 1998, Andrew Vachss testified before the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science [NCLIS] regarding public library–supplied access to the Internet.

Now the NCLIS has officially issued its findings, including Policy Issues and Potential Solutions, which include a number of Andrew Vachss' recommendations.

Read Andrew Vachss' original testimony by clicking here.

Download the entire testimony as a PDF file by clicking here.


The U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) was established in 1970 by Public Law 91–345 as a permanent, independent agency of the federal government charged with advising the executive and legislative branches on national library and information policies and plans. Specifically, the Commission was established to advise the President and the Congress on the library and information needs of the nation and the policies and plans necessary to meet those needs, and to report directly to the White House and the Congress on the implementation of national policy. The Commission conducts studies, surveys and analyses of the nation's library and information needs. It appraises the adequacies and deficiencies of current resources and services; promotes research and development activities; conducts hearings, issues publications; and develops overall plans for meeting national library and informational needs and for the coordination of related activities at the federal, state, and local levels.

In keeping with its mission and purpose, the Commission conducted a hearing on Kids and The Internet: The Promise and The Perils at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Virginia, on November 10, 1998. While we fully recognize the unprecedented value of the Internet and the seemingly limitless information available through the World Wide Web, the hearing offered the opportunity to hear firsthand from experts on the problems and complex issues arising from what NCLIS Vice Chair Martha Gould describes as the "dark side of the Internet." The hearing provided much information on both the promise and the perils of this new technological development and, in particular, how these issues affect librarians. Testimony was received from fifteen individuals with a multitude of perspectives on how to deal with this issue.

After listening intently to the testimony and carefully reviewing the statements submitted for the record, NCLIS developed practical guidelines designed to assist librarians and library trustees (or other governing bodies) in their efforts to evaluate and respond to the promise and the perils of Internet access for children. These practical guidelines, offering balance and compromise, outline the promise; the perils; policy issues; and potential solutions for librarians and library trustees. They are also applicable to school librarians and school administrators.

These guidelines, initially prepared in the form of a brochure and widely distributed, are proving to be a vital and extremely useful document for the entire library and information services community.

The Promise

NCLIS recognizes and encourages the unprecedented benefits of the Internet and the vital role libraries play in providing Internet access.

  • Libraries provide equal access to information.

  • The Internet enlarges the knowledge of the world by use of technology and, through libraries, the benefits of information technology are shared with those previously denied access.

  • The Internet provides an electronic gateway to an expansive array of current, timely information and knowledgeable experts around the globe.

  • The Internet gives young people an opportunity to learn how to become critical information consumers.

  • By providing immediate access to primary resources worldwide, the Internet extends the resources of individual libraries, no matter where they are located or what their size.

  • The Internet facilitates communication among people of diverse locations and backgrounds, thus contributing to greater peace and understanding among people.

  • Local governing boards of public institutions are best suited to determine policy regarding access to the Internet in their communities.

  • The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a policy framework that encourages access to the widest array of facts and opinions and prohibits most governmental actions that limit such access.

The Perils

NCLIS acknowledges that the Internet presents challenging problems to libraries, especially when children are using the Internet at public and school libraries.

  • Individual privacy may be eroded when children provide personal information about themselves and their families in order to register for certain web sites.

  • False and misleading information may be perceived to be authoritative because it appears on Internet web sites.

  • Library users and staff may be offended by the inadvertent or intentional display of objectionable material by other users.

  • The anonymity of Internet e–mail and chat rooms can provide cover for pedophiles who prey on unsuspecting and vulnerable young people.

  • The Internet can provide access to material, such as pornography, racism, and hate speech, that parents may not want their children to observe.

  • The Internet can facilitate illegal activities such as copyright piracy, gambling, stalking, pedophilia, personal threats, extortion, and consumer fraud.

  • Libraries may lack sufficient staff appropriately trained to provide individual assistance to children using the Internet.

Policy Issues

NCLIS believes that it is the responsibility of local library governing boards to develop Internet use policy and it appreciates that each board must answer a number of questions regarding the library's approach to Internet access. While NCLIS cannot presume to suggest individual answers to such questions—that, after all, is the responsibility of the local community—it can provide the following questions for consideration in development of an "acceptable use policy."

  • Can children use the Internet independently or do they need parental supervision or permission?

  • Will the library adopt a code of conduct that must be signed by a parent and child before the child accesses the Internet?

  • Will the library provide a gateway to guide its patrons?

  • Will the library adopt a clear statement that Internet terminals may not be used for illegal activities?

  • How does the library define illegal activities?

  • Will users have to sign up to use Internet terminals?

  • Will there be time limits on the use of Internet terminals?

  • Will the results of users' research be visible to other users or will the library install privacy screens or other means to restrict public viewing?

  • What does the library do when a user is discovered using an Internet terminal for illegal or improper use?

  • How does the library handle user and staff complaints about others gaining access to illegal or objectionable sites?

  • How will the library handle false accusations about illegal or improper use?

  • Does the library's insurance coverage address matters arising from providing access to the Internet?

  • How will the library handle access to functions such as chat and e–mail?

  • How can the library instill practical "street smarts" on the part of librarians and users?

  • How does the library train the governing board itself on the promise and perils of the Internet?

  • How do the library and its governing board transmit concerns about Internet access to its funding authority?

  • Will the library involve the local community through focus groups, public hearings and other means in the development of an Internet use policy?

  • How will the library seek legal review of its Internet policy, both from its own legal counsel as well as from other legal experts?

Potential Solutions

NCLIS believes that libraries and their governing boards can take effective action at the local level to mitigate the perils facing children using the Internet.

  • Libraries can implement procedures for gaining parental permission that describes what sort of access is permissible for their children.

  • Separate terminals can be provided for adults and children, or multiple profiles can be installed on terminals, so that children are not allowed the same access as older people.

  • Libraries can restrict the use of chat by children to sites that have been specifically approved (e.g., moderated chat groups, designated interactive sites such as homework helpers, museums and zoos).

  • Privacy screens or recessed monitors can be installed on public terminals so that only the terminal user can see what is displayed.

  • Libraries can require users to sign up for the use of Internet access terminals and acknowledge their understanding of the libraries' Internet use policies.

  • Libraries can present their own web sites that point children to sites that are pre–selected and evaluated or link to search engines that offer levels of selectivity.

  • Libraries can provide Internet training, education, and other awareness programs to parents, guardians and teachers that alert them to both the promise and the perils of the Internet and describe how children can have a safe and rewarding experience online.

  • Internet access terminals can be configured with software—which can be turned on or off—that restricts access to designated web sites or specific Internet functions.

As a direct result of this hearing, at its meeting in Seattle, Washington, December 3, 1998 the Commission adopted the following resolution: The U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science feels strongly that the governing body of every school and public library, in order to meet its trustee responsibilities, should establish, formally approve, and periodically review a written acceptable use policy statement on Internet access.

The Federal Role

While the Commission determined that policies and practices for protecting children by limiting their access to the Internet in public and school libraries are very much the responsibility of local governing authorities, the hearing also identified issues that are appropriately addressed at the Federal level. Federal law enforcement agencies, working with their counterparts at the state and local level, investigate and prosecute a range of illegal activities that utilize the Internet including copyright piracy, gambling, stalking, pedophilia, child pornography, personal threats, extortion, and consumer fraud.

Under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), the Federal Trade Commission is the lead agency developing regulations to assure that young children are not induced to provide personal information about themselves or their families when registering for or accessing commercial Internet sites located in the United States. There is still a need to address privacy issues for children over twelve years of age accessing commercial U.S. sites, as well as for all children accessing non-commercial sites in the U.S. and both commercial and non-commercial sites outside the U.S. Obviously development of any international rules, other than purely voluntary ones, will require Federal government participation.

Currently there are a limited number of organizations worldwide that license Internet domain names. Agreement among these organizations to establish and enforce specific naming conventions for use by Internet sites, whether commercial or not, that wish to distribute sexually explicit materials (for example) could facilitate the restriction of access to such materials by minors—much like the current rating system for movies limits access by unaccompanied minors. The Generic Top–Level Domain Policy Oversight Committee has proposed use of the domain designation .XXX in lieu of .COM or .ORG for sexually explicit sites. In her partial dissent to the Supreme Court's opinion on the Communications Decency Act, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggested that adult zones in cyberspace could keep children out of pornographic sites. The Federal government could take a leadership role in developing and promulgating a set of naming conventions for this purpose and implement them in the U.S. to evaluate their effectiveness. Definition of the sites required to use the designation, identification of sites that are not compliant, and enforcement mechanisms must be addressed as the new policy is put in place and implemented.

Congress continues to consider legislation that would require unsolicited commercial e–mail, often called SPAM, to include a reply address (or similar mechanism) to remove the recipient's name from future mailings. Some commercial bulk e–mail is already including this on a voluntary basis. Such a mechanism would allow recipients to protect themselves, and their children, from future mailings from the same source, whether the objectionable e–mail was pornographic or merely unsolicited advertising that is (to the recipient) "junk mail." Once again, the proposed legislation limits only domestic commercial Internet activity, so it does not protect recipients against equally objectionable, non–commercial or foreign SPAM and, of course, some objectionable material must come to the recipients in order for them to reject future mailings. Nevertheless, this is an important step in the efforts to "civilize" the Internet and provide some protections comparable to those that currently exist for unsolicited mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Another issue that deserves greater attention at all levels of government is the availability of false and misleading information that may be perceived to be authoritative merely because it appears on Internet web sites. "Computer literacy" stresses knowledge of how to use equipment and software to obtain information. "Information literacy" stresses the skills necessary to be a discerning user of that information—evaluating the source as well as the content before relying on it. Children and adults seeking information on the Internet need to know that they should verify the information before relying on it—and how to verify the information. Schools and libraries need to teach "information literacy" to children as they assist them in the use of the Internet, and the programs for training and certifying teachers and librarians need to teach the teachers, so they can in turn impart the correct information to the students. The Commission and other organizations in the Federal government can call attention to the issue of "information literacy" and encourage programs that teach users of the Internet to be informed consumers.


The hearing provided a unique opportunity for concerned citizens, parents, public librarians, teachers, and representatives from educational, literacy and information services organizations, companies, associations, and institutions to offer comments, observations, and suggestions related to the federal role and responsibility for library and information services offered to children and youth. The information gained at this event provides the basis for the Commission's advice to Congress and to the Administration in formulating future national programs and plans related to this important issue. This publication provides the transcript of the hearing, as well as written statements submitted for the record, so that others may also evaluate and learn from this information.

The Commission's efforts do not end with publication of this hearing record. This record and the initial promulgation of the brochure on the promise, the perils, the policy issues and potential solutions are the first steps in an ongoing effort by the Commission to assist in the development and implementation of appropriate policies for public Internet access at all levels of government.

The vision of a "harm–free" Internet cannot be implemented by any one group working alone. It will require cooperation, the coordination of activities, and the commitment of individuals in all areas of education, library service and information policy. Working together we can enhance the promise and minimize the perils for our children as they experience the global reach and vast capacity of the Internet.

Commissioners Participating in the Hearing

Commissioners participating in the hearing on "Kids and The Internet: The Promise and The Perils" were:

  • Jeanne Hurley Simon , Chairperson and Moderator
  • Martha B. Gould, Vice Chair
  • C. E. "Abe" Abramson
  • Walter Anderson
  • Rebecca T. Bingham
  • Joan R. Challinor
  • José-Marie Griffiths

  • Executive Director Robert S. Willard accompanied the Commissioners.

Kids and The Internet: The Promise and The Perils

The members and staff of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science express their sincere appreciation to everyone contributing to the success of this hearing. Their combined advice, guidance, suggestions, support and encouragement in the examination of this important issue are most valuable.

The Commission expresses deep appreciation to the witnesses. The individual and institutional commitment required to participate in efforts such as this hearing is, indeed, large. We are grateful for their participation. The Commission is also grateful to the individuals and organizations that provided written statements and other materials.

Andrew Vachss, a novelist and attorney who limits his practice to matters concerning children and youth, deserves special thanks for setting the tone for the hearing.

The NCLIS members and staff extend their sincere appreciation to Mr. Charles Overby, Chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum, and to the staff of the Freedom Forum for their warm hospitality and invaluable assistance.

Download the entirety of this report [a large PDF file] by clicking here. And you can read Andrew Vachss' original testimony by clicking here.


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