The following terms are helpful in understanding the role of online subscription content in our schools and the concern related to censorship or possible removal of such content.
Collections of newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and books. As with databases students use for research in school, database vendors build collections for specific age groups, for a particular topic, or both.
When a student does a search, the database will look for their search terms in the title, subject, and text of the resources in the database, and return relevant results
Local Community Standards: In determining what area constitutes a “local community,” the First Amendment Encyclopedia states that: “courts have permitted consideration of a community as ranging from statewide — including nation-state-sized states, such as California, Texas, and Illinois — to a division of the federal district court or a three-county metropolitan region” (Steiner).
School Community: Law Insider defines school community as “all parents, students and staff of the school and all other persons who have a legitimate interest in or connection with the school” (“School Community”).
Open web: For the purposes of this discussion the open web refers to public Internet sites, viewable by anyone and without a subscription or having to pay to access. The open web is searchable by search engines such as Google with a simple search.
Databases: Educational databases are collections of media materials (that can include newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and other resources) acquired by aggregators (such as the online database companies EBSCO, GALE, and ProQuest) to be sold by subscription to schools and libraries to support educational standards and classroom curriculum.
Media can range from everyday and popular material such as The New York Times and Reason magazine to peer-reviewed academic journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine. It may also include videos, images, and other media. The aggregator or online database company indexes this media to make it searchable and accessible to its users.
Schools and libraries purchase subscriptions to this material. With such a subscription, schools and librarians provide access for patrons to a variety of materials that would be prohibitively expensive if they were purchased separately, and students have access to materials not available on the open web that can be used for research.
E-book collections: Many companies offer collections of e-books (electronic books) to libraries. These are purchased as collections and may be specific (one title for all 3rd grade students or a collection of books about ecosystems, etc) or general, crossing genre and age/grade levels. Typical e-book collections are accessed through a library or classroom website. Students choose their books and read them on their computers or devices.
Curation: Curation seeks to select the best or most appropriate materials for presentation, distribution, or publication. Art galleries, for example, curate – or choose- the paintings that they want to highlight for their upcoming exhibit. Publishers, aggregators, reviewers, and librarians all participate in the curation process for school library materials.
- Reputable publishers and licensed educational publishers use State and National Guidelines to write textbooks and produce fact-based materials designed for the K-12 market. They are often the first line of curation as they choose authors, topics, and other materials to create their offerings.
- Aggregators, such as database companies, purchase from a wide swath of materials to create separate K-12 offerings that can be purchased by grade level, subject, or other criteria. Indexing provides the entire material via keywords or other search terms.
- Professional reviewers provide information and reviews that are less biased than descriptions that the publisher might provide thus allowing schools and certified school librarians to make decisions and curate electronic resources that fit their patrons.
Information: “knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.; factual data” (“Information”).
Misinformation: “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” (“Misinformation”).
Disinformation: “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda” (“Disinformation”).
Over filtering: Over-filtering is a common way to discuss the ways filters may restrict access to materials not deemed pornographic, obscene, or harmful to minors that are supportive of children’s information needs including school curriculum. Filters can be controlled by school and local communities, and if the stop word (see below) list or filtering setting is not reflective of curricular standards, legitimate resources will not be accessible to students.
Least restrictive: Least restrictive access refers to filters installed as a requirement of CIPA. Filters should be set so that students may access curricular material related to standards including Health. Under CIPA guidelines communities can determine the level of filtering, but CIPA requires a filter be installed and good faith effort on the part of schools receiving e-rate to filter for material (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), 2022).
Obscenity:The Miller test, which is the legal test from which one can determine whether an expression constitutes an obscenity, defines obscenity by applying the answers to these questions:
- whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
- whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law;
- whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Harmful to minors: The term “harmful to minors” refers to any picture, image, graphic image file, or other visual depiction that
- taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion;
- depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals;
- and taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value as to minors. (“47 USC § 254”)
They also note that: Federal law strictly prohibits the distribution of obscene matter to minors. Any transfer or attempt to transfer such material to a minor under the age of 16, including over the Internet, is punishable under federal law.
‘Stop words’: Stop words is an industry term for words that, when typed into the search bar, are not searched by database or search engine. The search engine has been programmed to ignore this word or phrase. A comparable example can be shown in the way that Google does not search the word ‘the’ within search phrases. Doing so, brings up far too many possible ‘hits’ with that word. In K12 educational databases ‘stop words’ include words and phrases that could be considered obscene under the Miller test, or using other criteria as determined by vendors. For example: a search on <sexual harassment> may only search for <harassment>.