On October 10th, a lawsuit was filed against EBSCO Industries Inc., a media aggregator database service, and Colorado Library Consortium, a non-profit benefitting Colorado libraries through the sharing of services and by offering continuing education for library staff. The lawsuit has been brought by The Thomas More Society on behalf of two Colorado parents who have been campaigning for two years to have EBSCO removed from libraries and schools, claiming the company “knowingly provides sexually explicit and obscene materials to school children.” The complaint extends that belief to CLiC because they say the group “purchases from EBSCO and knowingly brokers sexually explicit, obscene, and harmful materials to Colorado school children.”
EBSCO is used by school children and library patrons to cull search results to manageable amounts by providing full-text results from common periodicals, journals, and newspapers. The parents fighting to remove this service claim that it pushes pornography to the top of benign searches. As James LaRue, the director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom writes in his response to recent attacks on databases, Education is not Pornography, “If middle or high school students are looking for sex on the internet, they do not start with library databases.”
The content curated for databases like EBSCO is from mainstream sources that could be found at any newsstand or Barnes & Noble. According to an audit of the top search terms done by LaRue in 2017 for his article False Witness , the searches done by students seem to be exactly what would be expected of them while doing homework, looking for articles about science in today’s society like climate change data, or on “social issues as abortion, gun control, and cyberbullying. They were not looking for sites featuring gay sex. There were no pornographic terms in the top 100 [search terms].”
So why do Drew and Robin Patterson, the parents who have been waging war on EBSCO for two years, backed by the group previously known as Morality in Media (now called the National Center on Sexual Exploitation or NCOSE) believe that children are exposed to pornography through the information databases? LaRue breaks down the tactics used to achieve the results that groups like these desire.
- “First, “parents” do complex, multi-step searches, using terms and strategies rarely practiced by students, to get to content that references human sexuality. The offending article might be, and often is, something in Time magazine, or a men’s or women’s health magazine. It might be a Cosmopolitan article about the female orgasm. It might be a small ad in the back of a magazine for sex toys. It might be an article on birth control. It might be a link, in a research article about the effects of pornography, to external sites. It might be a description of a novel (but not its content). EBSCO, and libraries, sample the content of our culture. Sometimes, people talk about sex.”
- “The parents present these results as self-evident proof of a problem. The stunned media, accepting the claims at face value, amplify the message, in essence giving NCOSE the coverage it was seeking.”
- “At first mostly via Facebook attacks, but now at school boards or public library board meetings, the parents demand the immediate suspension of these databases.”
And it seems this campaign has become increasingly successful over the last couple years, with LaRue estimating that at least 130+ institutions have already stopped using the service to avoid parental complaints. So these tactics are working, and quickly and quietly censoring the right to read all across the country.
The American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement, quoted in a press release from Colorado Association of Libraries, states:
“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. it is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label ‘controversial’ views, to distribute lists of ‘objectionable’ books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals.”
CBLDF stands with all the hard-working groups fighting for students and library patrons’ right to read, as well as the students and patrons whose rights are being infringed upon by a very small group of individuals who wish to control the content available for everyone.
To learn more about this lawsuit and the smear campaign that has been going on for years against library databases read Education is Not Pornography by James LaRue here, or his in-depth look at the attacks on databases like EBSCO from last year, entitled False Witness here.
Read the full press release from Colorado Association of Libraries here.