Gale’s Response to Content Challenge in Virginia

The Situation
On August 31, 2018, Gale was contacted by a reporter at The Smithfield Times in VA, regarding a Smithfield High School parent concerned about the mature nature of content she discovered in a Gale database available through the Library of Virginia. To help our partner libraries and educators address any questions or concerns from parents and administrators regarding this incident, we have created the following FAQ. This FAQ provides an overview of the content that was challenged, how Gale responded, our approach to ensuring age-appropriate content within library resources and suggestions for your library as you consider which resources are best-suited for the K-12 students in your community.

What content was challenged by the parent?
The parent was questioning the inclusion of an article with mature subject matter and visuals in our Gale databases. The article, published by The Advocate, featured a person who created a YouTube channel to teach sexual education to gay men. The parent found the article by searching the resources recommended on the Smithfield High School website, which are available through the Library of Virginia. The Library of Virginia offers these electronic resources to school and public libraries through a cost-effective statewide license, providing teachers, students and the public access to authoritative sources of information on a wide array of subjects.

How did Gale respond to the content challenge?
The inquiry prompted Gale to conduct a broad review of the resources available specifically to K-12 students through the Library of Virginia. We did discover that the article was available in InfoTrac Student Edition. We reviewed the article and its source publication in light of our academic standards for this product and audience, resulting in removal of the article and adjustments to the finding aids within InfoTrac Student Edition. The article and The Advocate were removed during the review period. No changes were made to how the article or The Advocate appear within Gale’s other resources for collegiate research and adult general reference, such as: Academic OneFile, General OneFile, Contemporary Women’s Issues, Diversity Studies Collection and Gender Studies Collection.

How does Gale decide what content is loaded into its databases?
Gale uses a variety of methods to aggregate the most suitable content for a database’s specific purpose, relying on our internal expertise as a publisher, the reputation of the potential partner and our customers’ needs, feedback and requests. As many of our publishing partners are quite prolific, individual articles from an approved publisher can fall outside the scope of a database’s intended subject matter or audience. To minimize the discovery of these outliers, we leverage technology to help govern content.

What are Gale’s filters and how are they applied?
Since Gale aggregates millions of pieces of content, it is sometimes necessary to use finding aids to programmatically govern content. Our K-12 filter looks for inappropriate language or material and makes mature content more difficult to discover. For example, a student using the keyword “porn” would receive a “results not found” message in any of the resources designated by Gale for use by K-12 students (see below for our list).

If there are filters in place, how did the content get into the database?
We recognize that filters consistently over- and under block the content they aim to filter, so we pair this process with an ongoing manual review by a staff of expert content strategists and acquisition editors. Due to the volume of content available and the subjective nature of content review, articles that could be classified by some audiences as inappropriate can still appear within databases.

What should I do if someone is questioning the inclusion of a publication or piece of content?
Gale takes your feedback very seriously and reviews content inquiries immediately. If you are questioning the inclusion of content in our databases, you should reach out to your Gale representative. Any Education Sales Consultant, Customer Success Manager or Customer Service Representative can make sure your inquiry is routed to the appropriate Gale product representative. Recognizing that content challenges are a routine part of information aggregation and publication, and are not limited to Gale’s resources, you can also engage the ALA OIF or the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Virginia Library Association for guidance.

Is the information covered by the local news outlets in VA (Smithfield Times and WAVY TV 10) factually correct?
While the article in question was accessible from within one resource intended for high school students at the time of the search, a few of the statements in the story were misleading. While these inaccuracies certainly don’t change the perception of the parent and other concerned citizens, they are important distinctions for those of us within the library and educational community to understand. In the video interview with WAVY TV 10, the parent scrolls through a title list reflective of content across all of Gale’s databases and references an audio clip from Playboy. This implies Gale provides access to Playboy from within its K-12 products. Text-only access to Playboy articles is only available within an adult general reference sub-collection of InfoTrac periodicals called the Pop Culture Collection.

The news articles mentioned a “full statement” made by Gale to the media. Where can I find this?
The following statement was provided in response to media inquiries as well as additional responses to specific follow up questions.

Gale’s Statement:

“Gale is committed to ensuring age-appropriate content is displayed within our K-12 resources and we have several safeguards in place for our databases. While we use automated content filters to refine search results within our K-12 products, we recognize that further filtering is necessary. Due to the complex nature of many topics which could be keyword filtered as inappropriate—for example, topics related to science, health and sexual reproduction—our editors also manually review content as it is curated. In addition, we conduct case-by-case evaluations when specific materials are questioned. Based on this inquiry (from Smithfield Times), we initiated an audit of our technology and content resulting in two courses of action. First, the article was removed from our Student Edition database. In the meantime, by way of an emergency release deploying this weekend, additional filters have been applied to the Student Edition resource, which will limit discovery of the content in question.

While we aim to curate materials that are authoritative and age-appropriate, we also respect that libraries provide a safe and anonymous place for youth seeking to research and understand their concerns or curiosities. It is not our role to censor content which can help young researchers gain knowledge about the issues affecting them personally—academically, medically, socially or otherwise. Rather, we work to ensure that the content they discover within our resources is accurate and comprehensive.”

Which resources does Gale intend for use by younger students?
Gale categorizes the databases available through the Library of Virginia as follows:

  • Elementary: Kids InfoBits and National Geographic Kids
  • Middle School: Research In Context
  • High School: Student Edition (InfoTrac)
  • AP/IB Students and Collegiate Researchers: Expanded Academic ASAP and General Reference Center Gold
  • Collegiate researchers and adult general reference: all other

Additionally, many individual schools and libraries in Virginia subscribe directly to one or more of resources in the Gale In Context suite, which is our foundational product portfolio of curriculum-aligned, age-appropriate and subject-specific content for middle- and high-school students.

How can I best respond to parents and administrators challenging my/Gale’s library resources?
Beyond the information and suggestions provided in this FAQ, you may wish to engage the expert resources provided to libraries through the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) and by the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Virginia Library Association. In consultation with the ALA OIF, we’d like to highlight the following resources:

If you’d like to connect with a member of the Gale team for additional support, please submit the following form.

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I’d like help updating my library’s Gale-administered website. I’d like guidance on how to better designate and promote student resources from my own school or library website. I’d like to better understand which resources serve which audiences, so I can better tailor my library’s collection. I am not a school or librarian and would like to discuss this issue.