Friday, July 14, 2017

Addressing concerns about EBSCO resources in SLED Databases

Last week, the Alaska State Library received this question via our Twitter account:

The World Net Daily (WND) article linked from Chickadee Chick's tweet reported on claims from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) that children in Colorado were able to search EBSCO databases and find sexually inappropriate materials. EBSCO is a national vendor of online indexes to magazines with linked full-text articles from the magazines. EBSCO databases are available to Alaskans through SLED. We have not had reports of Alaska students finding sexually inappropriate materials through any of the EBSCO databases on SLED, but we do take claims of possible harm to children very seriously.

Because it is never a good idea to take a single article from ANY source as absolutely true, our first step was to verify the WND story. We visited the NCOSE site to read the claims they made about the EBSCO databases. Next, we found a story from a FOX News affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, where EBSCO is located, that contained additional details on the claims, along with a response from EBSCO.

Our research and reading led us to conclude that there were some articles from professional journals discussing sexual matters that were inappropriately searchable from elementary and middle school databases. EBSCO addressed NCOSE’s concerns when contacted and removed the offending journals from their elementary and middle school databases.  The WBRC article indicated some additional controversy and additional steps being taken by EBSCO.

At this point, we contacted EBSCO directly, both to confirm the account we found from WBRC and to ask about the ongoing status of their work. They told us in part:

“Based on our reviews, we are confident that we have removed all content identified as being sexually explicit from these products. At this time, we are focusing our additional curation scrutiny on our other K-12 products to replicate the approach that we took with Primary Search and Middle Search Plus.”
“Please know that EBSCO is very mindful of issues around censorship and always remains neutral on topics; the content provided in our databases does not reflect EBSCO positions or opinions. As noted, we have strengthened our review system to ensure that questionable content does not appear in our K-12 products in the future and put plans in place to further empower product managers and consistently ensure the content in our K-12 products is age appropriate. Furthermore, in order to address additional concerns that may vary from school to school or district to district, EBSCO continues to maintain processes that enable individual libraries and school districts to control the content they provide and remove titles from their EBSCO databases. While customers have the ability to exclude any title as they may see fit, we are working toward the article level controls so that each customer can ultimately determine if a given article is deemed appropriate for their students/community.”    

Alaska State Library staff tried to find the materials that the original WND article stated were in EBSCO, but we could not find those items. It appears to us that EBSCO has made a good faith effort to remove these materials from their databases. At this point, we are satisfied with EBSCO’s efforts in this area.

Turning from EBSCO to internet access generally, you should know that all Alaska schools and school libraries have anti-pornography filters in place, as does any Alaska public library that receives federal funding for internet access. These filters are not perfect – they sometimes let materials through they should not and sometimes they block content they should not – like research on breast cancer. But the filters are there.

The Alaska State Library strongly encourages parents to be with their children online as much as possible and encourage their children to discuss what find. Parents are children’s first and best teachers.

If you have a concern about a particular resource or article that is available through the SLED databases, we ask you to do the following:

  1. Be as specific as you possibly can, because our databases have a LOT of journals. Please be sure to note the name of the database you are searching, the title of the article, the author’s name and the title of the journal in which the article appeared. The more specific you can be, the easier and faster it will be for us to address your concerns. Please state clearly why you find a particular resource inappropriate for children. 
  2. Start by sharing your concerns with your local library. If you don’t have a local library, you can e-mail us at 

Since 1994, the Alaska State Library has worked with the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library to make EBSCO databases available through SLED to Alaskans at school, work and home. This is the first time content on EBSCO has been questioned. We hope that EBSCO’s action addresses the concerns of the Twitter user and others concerned about children’s access to databases paid for with government funds.


New alert over X-rated materials .. In School!  (World Net Daily, 6/30/2017 

Could your kids find pornographic articles on school computers? (WBRC Fox 6 News, 6/28/2017)

1 comment:

Freya said...

We recently received an additional comment of concern, which we address here.

We at the Alaska State Library are very concerned that all Alaskans have access to high quality, age-appropriate materials through the SLED Databases. We have worked with EBSCO to ensure that the Explora databases, one for kindergartners through grade 5, and another for grades 6-12, do not search content geared to adults. In addition, all Alaskan schools and many Alaskan public libraries use anti-pornography filters. The quality of curation and filtering has improved dramatically over the years, although no method is perfect at this scale.

Different groups have different needs, and so EBSCO allows for local customization. For example, an elementary school may want to include Explora, but not Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, while a university may choose the reverse. Schools, public libraries, or other institutions, may set up their own instance, and then may choose which databases to include. They can even choose not to include specific journal titles. EBSCO is developing the capability to allow specific issues, or even articles, to be omitted at this level, although this is not yet available.

Some material is not appropriate for a publicly provided database at all. On rare occasions in the past, I’ve been dismayed to come across such. In those cases, I’ve shared specific article-level information, and the situation was rectified immediately. Fortunately, the quality of curation and filtering has improved, and I haven’t run into such a situation in years. However, there’s a process in place if this type of situation does occur. Just as with hard copy collections, residents may share a statement of concerns, via a form we have for this purpose. This simple, one page form helps us obtain the information necessary to evaluate the situation, such as contact information for the person with the concerns, and specific information to allow us to reproduce the problem. In this case, I was able to find the magazine titles in question, but was not able to find the specific item of concern in the full text of the searchable EBSCO databases on SLED. Anyone is welcome to submit a statement of concerns, although we give more weight to concerns of Alaska residents. We plan to post this form online for easy access next week. A copy can also be obtained by emailing request to