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August 24, 2013


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I study LIS because I believe in fair access. This is not acceptable. Librarians are not arbiters, but enablers.

Dale Evans

It's nice to see that at least some people see the hypocrisy in asking libraries to censor content on "moral" grounds.


Well said Phil, you've summed up perfectly how I feel about this. Censorship is unacceptable and however 'icky' these companies may seem, censorship, blocking the sites and councils acting as moral arbitrators aren't the answer.

I thought this blog was an interesting perspective on Wonga, pointing out some of the plus points it has over 'traditional' banks/lenders: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23078746 (again pointing out the transparency of its - admittedly eye-watering - charges)

So, will councils also have to start censoring "mainstream" banks' websites on moral grounds?? After all, banks aren't exactly above reproach when it comes to morality...


This is a fantastic post, and I agree! Especially on the availability of clear advice, information, and options for money management, which people can then use to decide for themselves. I'm pretty sure most libraries have plenty of resources/materials available on this, it would just be a matter of highlighting them.

Jeff Skinner

You would do your case more justice if you avoided pejorative remarks about local politicians - “local political masters;” “smug, self centred patronising councillors” - and were able to see that this is a more complicated issue than you acknowledge. For example:

• The Advertising Standards Agency has already banned one misleading Wonga advert
• Some universities have banned campus advertising by Pay Day Loan companies because of its effect on students’ education
• Debt advice charities have called for all such advertising to carry “health warnings”
• This is an unregulated market with no cap or upper limit on the interest rates that can be charged and there is copious evidence – see the work of Stella Creasy – of the effect this has on people who use such services
• It may also be a simplification of the issue to say that “people can make up their own minds.” Is it reasonable to say that people using such services are acting “freely” or that they are making informed decisions?
• Is it then really so unreasonable for local authorities - which will have to pick up the pieces when their residents get into debt – to decide that denying publicly-funded access to such sites is a responsible thing to do?


I agree with Jeff Skinner. This is a very complicated issue. You say that you understand how much interest you will be charged, but the fact is that many people are not aware of how the debt can get out of hand. Some do not understand the interest rates and many are vulnerable people. I think it is important to educate people to the risks of applying to these companies and to promote alternatives such as credit unions and banks as you do suggest too.

Phil Bradley

Mr Skinner - you appear not to understand that blog posts are generally opinion pieces - mine certainly are, and as such I can use whatever language I choose. To the substance of your comment:
It doesn't matter that adverts have been banned. The company, and what it does, are still completely legal.
Universities are not the same as libraries.
The government should decide to regulate the markets; it's not the role of a library to do this for them.
You may choose to assume that people are not capable of making their own decisions; I prefer to believe that people actually can, if they're given full information, not less.
Yes, it's completely unreasonable for a local council to decide what people can or cannot see, when it's completely legal.

Phil Bradley

Caroline - thanks for your comment. If people don't understand how the debt can get out of hand, a good place to go is a library to get educated. However, if a library is providing biased or limited information, why should it be trusted to provide solid education?

Jeff Skinner

Dear Mr.Bradley,

Of course you are entitled to use any language you choose but I think most people would accept that we are more likely to have our opinions taken seriously if we avoid generalisations and pejorative or ad hominem remarks about those with whom we disagree.
The point I was trying to make is that rather than criticise politicians for being politicians it might pay us to think about why, as democratically elected representatives with a responsibility for spending public money, they have chosen to block access in this way. For example, perhaps it is because they consider that businesses have a responsibility not to mislead consumers and, as I mentioned in my post, some of these companies have been heavily criticised for the misleading nature of their advertising. An analogy would be with a medical product that is advertised on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate scientific information. Secondly, it can be argued that one measure of a good society is that it protects the vulnerable from harm. You’ll be familiar with the argument from Mill that we are free to do what we want as long as it doesn’t harm other people. So what we have here is a common-or –garden clash of competing values: between “free speech” on the one hand and the duty to avoid harm, say, on the other. You seem confident that you are right and perhaps you are. To me, it’s not self-evident – hence my contribution to the discussion. Finally, you may want consider that people differ in their capacity “to make up their own minds”, as you put it. A homeless man may have chosen to sleep under a bridge but we would not necessarily consider his choice to be a free one.

Tom Roper

To return to the issue of principle, I was in my public library today and tried to access the Racing Post site; it was blocked. I know public libraries, in bygone days, used to black out the racing pages, but I thought we'd advanced a little since then.
I've written about it at http://www.roper.org.uk/tr/2013/09/blacking-out-the-racing-results.html and have made a complaint. When I have a reponse I shall post it.

Jeff Skinner

I think that's a bit harsh - I'm suggesting there may be competing principles here. It might be reasonable to block one site and not the other.

John Kirriemuir

Hi Phil (and Tom)

Am in the new (central) Library of Birmingham, on their wifi. Testing, and these are blocked:

- Pirate Bay and other torrenting services e.g. kat.ph
- racingpost.com
- oddschecker.com
- playboy.com
- spearmintrhino.com
- ladbrokes.com

Each block gives a list of categories. kink.com (a hardcore BDSM website that is seriously NSFW) gives the block list: "Pornography, Nudity, Sexuality, Adult Themes, Tasteless" which is a bit subjective.

Oh, they've also blocked thesun.co.uk with the list "News/Media, Nudity, Lingerie/Bikini". Lingerie is a blockable category?! That's going to be a problem for fashion and design students using the wifi here.

Perhaps strangely,

- wonga.com
- paydayuk.co.uk

...work. Maybe not got round to blocking them yet? Also, to the delight of young Tom, www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/ works fine.

Other oddities. www.dogginginbirmingham.co.uk is accessible, but www.dogging.co.uk is blocked. Whether this is inconsistent, or if the library only permits "local dogging for local people", don't know.

Your blog, Tom's, mine, publiclibrariesnews.com are all okay, as is Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, CILIP, ALA, MetaFilter and cricinfo.com

(n.b. I'm happily engaged so some of the websites above were only accessed for research purposes. Yes, seriously.)

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