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Mainstream Loudoun et al. v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library et al.

Loudoun Chooses Restricted Access

The Loudoun County public library system in Virginia consisted of six branches and, like many public libraries, provided public access to the Internet and the World Wide Web. A library board of trustees controlled and managed the library. Board members, appointed by county officials, adopted bylaws, rules and regulations to guide operation and use of the library system.

In October of 1997, the library board voted to adopt an Internet sexual harassment policy requiring Internet site-blocking software be installed on all library computers. The primary purpose was to block children's access to sexually explicit material. The policy also required blocking other material judged "harmful to juveniles" under Virginia law. The library board selected a commercial software product, X-Stop, to limit access to such sites.

Shortly afterwards, a local citizens' association known as Mainstream Loudoun and ten adult members of Mainstream who were patrons of the Loudoun County public libraries filed suit against the Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Library, including its five board members, and against Douglas Henderson, Loudoun County's director of library services. Mainstream sought a court-ordered injunction blocking further use of the blocking software and eliminating the policy.

Mainstream, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, claimed the library blocked their access to such protected speech as the Quaker Home Page, the Zero Population Growth website, and a site for the American Association of University Women-Maryland. They also charged no clear criteria existed for the blocking decisions, thus Mainstream's receipt of constitutionally protected materials on the Internet was illegally restricted.

The library policy was essentially asking the software to conduct a legal test to determine what material was inappropriate. Mainstream further argued that library policy requiring all computer terminals be placed in full view of others actually increased, rather than decreased, a risk that library patrons might view material they may consider offensive. Such public placement of terminals might also pose a restrictive effect by discouraging patrons from viewing even unfiltered material. Mainstream charged that, ironically, the filtering software could potentially block material on the Internet that was actually available to library patrons on the library's shelves.

The Board responded that the new policy was patterned after an existing policy restricting the library from obtaining certain objectionable materials when requested by patrons. The Board argued that accessing material by computer at an Internet site was the same as using library facilities to request an interlibrary loan of the material. The Board contended that as far as they knew "no court has ever held that libraries are required by the First Amendment to fulfill a patron's request to obtain a pornographic film through an interlibrary loan." Furthermore, they argued the Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Pico (1982) held that school boards should have the freedom to decide what materials to add to their library collections.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentMainstream Loudoun et al. v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library et al. - Significance, The Internet Filtering Dilemma, Loudoun Chooses Restricted Access, Protection By Subtraction, Impact