FEBRUARY 10, 1997
Dangers of unfiltered Internet access
When can I expect to find Playboy in the periodical section of my local library?
Sound ridiculous? Then why would we have unfiltered access to the Internet available at a public library? There is extremely explicit material available on the Internet, and it is not that difficult to find. A young adult with just a little savvy and the location of a good search engine on the net could obtain free samples with far worse content than the relatively tame Playboy publication. And the "If you're not over 18, then don't enter this site" warnings are a joke. (Only I'm not laughing.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for open access. But, if we've set the moral standards on printed media for our public libraries to not include pornography, then why would we change this policy for the electronic medium?
Picture this: Your teenage daughter decides to do a report on breast cancer for her 10th grade health class. She's old enough to spend time in the library without adult supervision, so you drop her off to do some harmless research. During her stay, she decides to look to the Internet for some additional information. She finds a popular search engine and types in the keyword "breast." This will then pull up a listing from which she can innocently go to a number of locations (more than a few) that have less than innocent content. Needless to say, she'll probably be appalled, not to mention the demeaning effect on a developing young woman.
Yeah, that all sounds kind of corny and maybe tries to give the impression that the teenagers of today are more innocent and naive than reality demonstrates. But now imagine this tool in the hands of a young teenage boy with raging hormones and curiosity. Suddenly this picture is not so innocent and probably even more likely. I, for one, would like peace of mind that my child doesn't have access to this sort of material while in the public libraries that my tax dollars help fund.
Enough on hypothetical scenarios; what can realistically be done to help this situation? There are a number of packages available today that do simple blocking of known pornographic sites. The developers regularly update the listings of these sites, and I believe the listings can be downloaded by registered users. Yes, this will add some cost to the systems, but in my opinion, this should be viewed as a necessary cost of having this service available. This is not a 100 percent solution, but it will probably cover better than 95 percent and make finding what sites are available more difficult.
Should there even be Internet access in our public libraries? Yes, without a doubt! There is more information available on the net than with any other single source. Having it available in a public library makes complete sense and I would be happy to see my tax dollars supporting this. We just need to continue the moral standards our libraries have maintained since Benjamin Franklin started the first one here in America. (Yes, I recently learned that from a biography my 11-year-old checked out of the Woodinville Library for a report at school.)
For those that feel they should have "unfiltered" access available to them, buy a PC, pay a service provider for a connection to the Internet, and knock yourself out in the privacy of your own home.
Raymond Rhodes, Woodinville