FEBRUARY 3, 1997

 The Edwards Agency

Front Page

Times are changing for our public libraries

'Internet will remain unfiltered'

Don Julien

Woodinville Librarian Don Julien has been heavily involved in the library's homepage, Internet access and providing a children's alternative for web browsing.

Internet workshops

Evening Internet workshops at Bothell Regional Library are popular with all age groups. The Internet computers are located in a high-traffic area near the reference desk.
Photos by Jeff Switzer/Northwest News.

Libraries & Internet by Jeff Switzer
Consistent with their policy on open access, Internet access will remain unfiltered in King County Libraries, according to a vote of the Board of Trustees, though there may be filtered sites down the road for children's sections.
   Last Thursday, the five-member board voted unanimously to amend the material selection policy, adding the phrase "access to electronic information, services, and networks" to the title.
   "The King County Library System Board of Trustees has determined that filters or other barriers will not be employed to restrict system-wide access," the amended policy reads. "Such restriction is neither consistent with the principle of free and open access, nor is it technically feasible given the dynamic nature of the Internet, with constantly changing content."
   The Board can change the policy if any materials or electronic access are no longer protected by the First Amendment.
   "We're trying to find a positive way for kids to connect to technology while still offering full access in other parts of the library," said KCLS spokesperson Jeanne Thorsen. Implementation of dedicated children's computers is something further down the road.

Explicit images sometimes found in libraries
   In the past few years, libraries have advanced with the times and technology, using tax dollars to purchase computers capable of access to the Internet and the World Wide Web.
   The access is not filtered or monitored, and screens with explicit images are occasionally left on after a patron has used an Internet computer, ranging from unexpected to pornographic and disturbing. While patrons may come across these screens, staff members are the ones who are responsible for shutting down the screens at day's end.
   "It's an interesting time to be working in libraries," said Barbara Archbold, associate director of Public Services for the King County Library System (KCLS). "Dealing with these types of issues is quite new to us and the Board is monitoring it to make sure the policies are still effective with the changing environment."
   While minors are prohibited from purchasing pornographic images, the Internet has no mechanism to prevent them from viewing, printing, or downloading images, though some sites require a credit card number after a preview.
   Since September 1994, KCLS has had a policy on Internet use by minors, putting the responsibility in the hands of parents or guardians whether to place restriction on access. The policy notes that some sites may contain material that is inaccurate, defamatory, illegal, or potentially offensive to some people.

Library pro-active on Internet use
   When Internet access became commonplace for local libraries last summer, KCLS began providing workshops for parents and patrons to make them aware of what is "out there," and still do offer these programs.
   "We're adding a lot of other things on our system that, frankly, will be very attractive and provide a cornucopia of things to direct (children's) focus," said Don Julien, manager of the Woodinville Library. "The Web and inappropriate sites are a curiousity, so we try to pique (their) curiosity in other ways."
   Six access sites are in high-traffic areas, but two of Woodinville's eight Internet terminals are in the children's section which are slated for two dozen new programs for kids, including dinosaurs, Magic School Bus, and Dr. Seuss. They are also programmed to default to the KCLS kids homepage, which has links to kid-specific websites.
   While adding these programs is meant to offer an alternative, Julien says there's no replacing parental involvement and guidance.
   "The more communication there is between parents and kids, the better off we all are," he said. "The World Wide Web really means the world. That was something that was difficult to grasp."
   Given the power and array of ideas on the Internet, fairly innocuous search terms often turn up unexpected results, as was found in a library workshop. Search engines are becoming increasingly powerful and if search terms are too broad, users may unintentionally come across unwanted content.

Librarians clear unattended screens
   But without filters, libraries are dealing with inappropriate sites in other ways. At Woodinville, librarians make regular sweeps of all the computers to make sure they're working, see if patrons need assistance, and to clear abandoned screens back to the main menus.
   Plastic privacy screens which prevent anyone besides the user from viewing the screen are also a possibility, as well as further creative placement of the computers, as has been done at Bothell Regional Library. None of the terminals have screen savers or time-out functions which would return screens to a main menu.
   Bothell has four dedicated Internet computers in the middle of the library in a high traffic area. According to Rob Bowman, assistant manager of the Bothell Regional Library, the computers' location reflects the larger need for assistance.
   And the likelihood of a complaint is inevitable, he said.
   "The library system feels the beneficial use of the Internet exceeds and outweighs the bad apple pages," Bowman said, who noted Bothell hadn't had any problems he was aware of.