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Slide 8 of 16

Libraries are on the firing line right now over the issue of kids and the Internet. The Internet was develped in the 1980's by academics and researchers for academics and researchers. At that time there was no idea that this sytem would ever be used by the general public. Not knowing what to do with kids is only one of the consequences of the assumptions that were built in to the early Internet design.

Unfortunately, the kids question has come to revolve around the issue of pornography, as if the only thing that we have to do to make cyberspace kid- friendly is to make sure that anyone under the age of 18 never sees any sexual content. The real problem is that of "appropriateness." Even if we do manage to segregate the sexual materials, there's still no way for kids to find materials appropriate to their age, their reading skills or their level of education. In libraries we know that kids aren't just sexually immature adults. We also know that kids are a continuum. It's not enough to divide the world into those under and those over the age of 18.

Kids use a different vocabulary and ask different questions. They need to retrieve materials at their level of comprehension and education. And they can't just be left on their own to ferret out knowledge - we still need teachers, librarians and parents to help them learn from the information around them.

Many libraries are grappling with whether or not to use filtering programs to block Internet access to some kinds of materials. These filters only address one issue of appropriateness and they don't make the system "kid friendly." We still have no way to find science materials for 8th graders or 3rd grade readers. Service to children is not = keeping them away from pornography. It is much, much more. And the library does that "more" with its extensive services for children.

Essentially, the problem of appropriateness pervades the Internet and it doesn't just have to do with kids. I would say that any system that responds to a search on the term "Bambi" that returns both a Playboy centerfold and a link to a Disney animated cartoon is simply doing bad information retrieval. This does not tell me that children need to be protected on the Internet, it tells me that we all deserve something much better from our information services.