Fun_People Archive
25 Mar
An Item About Censorship & the V-barcode

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 96 15:28:25 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: An Item About Censorship & the V-barcode

[It's about time this happened.  Libraries have been making it so easy to get  
good reading material that there's been no real challenge.  Now Canada is  
leading the way in teaching kids how to steal things that have some real  
worth...  -psl]

From: (Jef Jaisun)
From: (Camille Matern)

News Release -- April 1st, 1996

	V-chip rating system extended to books

		CLA endorses 'V-barcode' plan

The Canadian Library Association today announced its intention to comply
with the wishes of millions of Canadians who had signed a petition decrying
the increasing presence of "vivid imagery of sex and violence" in books
targetted at children.

"Once my daughter started reading books in the 'Goose Bumps' series", says
one concerned parent, "reading became like an addiction to her."  Even
though the books were so violent and scary the girl had nightmares.  "Soon
she started reading beyond her grade level and was getting into books with
'adult themes'." The problem, say most busy parents, is that kids can visit
the local library and borrow anything they choose, regardless of their
family's values.

The new book rating system, modelled after television's highly successful
V-chip, has been dubbed the V-barcode, because each book will have a
machine-readable "barcode" on the spine that encodes a rating of the book's
contents on several scales:  sex, violence, coarse language, drug use,
religion, and 'alternative lifestyles'.

"This isn't about censorship", says Keith Spicer, who recently joined the
CLA as policy director after leaving the CRTC, "this is about choice, ...
about empowering parents to make choices." Under the new system, parents
will select their family's "tolerance levels" on each scale.  These are
encoded as a barcode on their child's library card.  When a child wants to
borrow a book, the librarian simply passes the library card and book over
a scanner (just like the ones used in the supermarket) and a screen
instantly displays whether authorization should be granted.  "It's a marvel
of technology", bubbles Spicer, "it's just like the child's parent is there,
saying to the child -- 'No, we don't borrow that kind of book in this

The CLA dismisses complaints the system will be burdensome.  "We already
have barcodes on most books, so the cost of the new system will be
incidental", said a CLA spokesperson.  Library patrons can expect to pay an
additional $5 per year over their normal borrowing fees.

"The V-barcode is just a small part of the overall solution for dealing with
violence in books," says Spicer.  "The best way of dealing with bad books
is to have more good books, and we hope that once children stop borrowing
the bad books publishers will start printing books of better quality."

There are still a few wrinkles to be worked out, however.  Some skeptical
parents think children might start hanging out in libraries -- where they
can still read books they aren't allowed to borrow.  Still, to many parents,
the new system gives a parent more control over what their child reads than
is the case without this technology.  "It's a social experiment worth
trying", says one parent, "It will be interesting to see what guidelines
will be drawn up and who will be doing the drawing.  It will force people
to reflect on ethics and reading, which is something we could afford to be
more reflective about."

Enthusiasts of the V-barcode would like to see its use expanded.  "We'd like
to see the V-barcode system adopted in bookstores", says Keith Spicer,
"We've already got a pilot project going with the Cole's Bookstore chain
and the Bank of Montreal where the parental tolerance levels are encoded
into the mag-stripe on the child's bank card."  A book purchase can be
declined at the checkout if it exceeds the family's tolerance levels.  "Cash
purchases," says Spicer, "are still a problem."


Contact Information:

CLA media liason on V-barcodes:
David Jones
(905) 525-9140 x24689

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