It has recently been brought to our attention at the North Dakota State Library that EBSCO databases have been under fire from groups based in Colorado, alleging their databases contain pornographic material. I would like to take this opportunity to reassure worried librarians, teachers, and parents that these accusations are false. When this came to our attention we did our own research into the EBSCO databases accused of harboring this type of material. We did not find anything inappropriate.
The group that was cited when this was brought to our attention is the National Center for Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly called Morality in Media. It is our goal at the State Library to help librarians and teachers identify credible resources that show both sides of an issue. This organization is not what we would consider a credible resource. When reading the site you can see that the organization is presenting their side of an issue rather than all sides involved. The National Center for Sexual Exploitation has what they call a “Dirty Dozen List” that is published each year to highlight the companies they consider “facilitators of sexual exploitation.” EBSCO has been on their list for several years now and other notables on the list are the American Library Association (ALA) and Amnesty International.
EBSCO databases have both scholarly reviewed materials and popular publication materials. The content of these popular press magazines are what have brought EBSCO under fire. One of the most common examples that NCOSE likes to use is the article “How to be a Better Bottom.” This article was published in April 2017 by Dr. Evan Goldstein in the periodical The Advocate. This article is from a popular press magazine, not a scholarly reviewed one. When we teach students, teachers, and other librarians how to do proper scholarly research, we always make sure to tell them to search by ‘scholarly reviewed’ items. This article does not appear when a search is done in that way. However, this article may be useful to those who are studying sexual health or those who are exploring their sexuality. Therefore, it should not be censored from databases.
As librarians, our goal is to never censor information from the masses. School libraries have firewalls and filters in place to protect students from material that could be harmful to them. Public libraries do not filter to the same extent, because they serve people of all ages. I would like to share a small portion of a letter from the director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, James LaRue. In this letter to a different public library LaRue states,
“Our office is aware of no reports of any minor seeking or finding illegal or even pornographic content through EBSCO. Thus far, the searching [by NCOSE] is done by adults, usually following relatively sophisticated searching techniques that involve multiple steps. Moreover, these searches are conducted at home, where the internet connection is not filtered. If minors were in fact seeking sexual content, it’s unlikely that they would start with EBSCO. Nor would they start with filtered library catalogs. They would use their home computers or mobile phones and Google.”
Libraries are now falling between a rock and a hard place. Which really is not a new position for libraries. Librarians want to respect everyone’s wishes but in doing that, some are left unhappy. This is a tight-rope that librarians walk every single day. While we at the State Library suggest you should always listen to the concerns raised by patrons, we do believe that you should do your own research as well.
Even though the concerns about EBSCO were raised by what seemed to be a spam Facebook account (which has since been deleted), we take any challenge to the appropriateness of library materials seriously. We always hear the person out and explore their claim. In this case, we have found no evidence supporting the accusations against the EBSCO databases. We used the search techniques we teach and found none of the material that EBSCO is accused of promoting.
In this case, the situation boiled down to a simple choice for us. We could bow to political pressures leveraged by an out-of-state organization seeking to discredit schools, libraries, and the resources they provide. Or we could stand by the principles of Intellectual Freedom and affirm the right for everyone to have access to high quality research tools. We chose the latter.
If you have heard about this and would like to discuss ways to assure your patrons and parents that EBSCO is a reputable database please give us a call at the State Library. Your library development specialist would be happy to help.
**Special thanks to James LaRue for sharing his letter to the Arapahoe Libraries from July 2017.