2001 Jack Green Civil Liberties Award Honoree
Roger Pearson has been the director of the Sonoma County Library System since 1996. Normally a “quiet” position, he found himself in the middle of a firestorm for the past two years when Sonoma County libraries were placed on the 10 Most Unsafe For Children List(only twenty libraries were examined, no scientific study was used in formulating the list). A local group, Help Oppose Pornography’s Exploitation, immediately began pressuring the Library Commission to censor the Internet by installing “filters” on all library computers.
Filters are computer software programs produced by private companies that block access to Internet sites. Companies selling filters refuse to state the criteria used to determine when sites should be blocked or list which sites are banned, stating such information are proprietary trade secrets. Filters block on the basis of a list of “key words” or “objectionable content.” Filters using key words do not discern the context such words are used in. Blocking on content typically blocks access to sites that contain First Amendment protected content. Filters have blocked access to The Bible, U.S. Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner and many other sites.
The attacks on the Library Commission by HOPE soon degenerated into personal attacks on Roger Pearson and the Commission. The campaign against the Library greatly increased Pearson’s workload, requiring him to spend hundreds of hours dealing with Internet issues and the furor it raised in our community. Despite the attacks, Roger Pearson, the members of the Library Commission and the local governing boards all voted unanimously to maintain a policy of free access and individual choice and responsibility. Pearson stood firm in following the American Library Association’s policy that communications over the Internet deserve the highest level of Constitutional protection and that the role of libraries is to provide ideas and information across the spectrum of social and political thought, regardless of storage medium, and to make these ideas and information available to anyone who needs or wants it.