MARCH 17, 1997
Library no longer safe haven
by J. Thomas, Woodinville Library Page
Your neighborhood library is not a safe haven from the world that surrounds it. Your daughters are not safe. Your sons are not safe. You are not safe.
I am a page, the person who resuscitates locked computers, turns the computers on and off each day, and shelves books at the Woodinville Library. Since our library has come online utilizing an unfiltered Internet connection, I and my colleagues have responded to a number or situations that were foreign to us, but are now painfully familiar:
I am tired of the media portraying the problem of unfiltered Internet access as an issue of freedom vs. censorship. I am tired of the false battle cry: Freedom of Access. Why don't you disclose the truth about this freedom of access mantra? It is nothing more than a sad attempt at saving face.
- The librarians spending their time showing people how to access pornography on the Internet.
- Library pages being forced to view disturbing full-page pornographic sites as a consequence of doing their job: shutting down the computers at closing. The pornography we are forced to see includes not only the soft-core porn of the Playboy type, but also the hard-core street type, such as women being raped.
- The patron bringing to our attention a convicted child molester she recognized who was utilizing our computers to view pornography in the children's section of our library.
- The man who comes in, headphones in tow, to view live action pornographic sites on our computers.
- The man who comes in, positions himself in the middle of the library so that the female librarians at the information desk can see his computer screen, and views pornography all afternoon.
The King County Library System launched headlong into bringing Internet access into its libraries without having the money in place to manage this resource properly. At Woodinville, the computers were placed on existing study tables and the cords secured as out-of-the-way as possible. The library system thought, erroneously, that placing computers in very open public places would discourage patrons from viewing pornographic sites. Now that this low-budget tactic has backfired, the system finds itself with little money in its coffers to remedy the situation; hence the invention of Freedom of Access.
Lastly, the amount of computer and staff resources being spent on pornography is greatly out of proportion with the amount of resources the library allocates to acquiring hard copy pornographic materials. King County Library's Materials Selection policy does not apply to the Internet. There is no mechanism in place to select Internet sites or, conversely, to de-select them. As a consequence, unlike all CDs, CD-ROMs, videos, tapes, books, newspapers, and magazines that go through a materials selection process, in the eyes of the King County Library Council's Internet policy, all Internet sites are of equal value.
The King County materials selection policy deems all pornography, excluding Playboy magazine, unworthy of our resources, yet the Internet policy endorses all pornographic sites, including hard-core street pornography, as worthy of our computer resources, staff time, and supplies.
Why not provide a cluster of computers facing a wall that have unfiltered Internet access and filter all other computers? Why not attach privacy screens (plastic attachments that snap onto the monitor) onto the computers with unfiltered Internet access, so that only the user directly facing the monitor can see the screen? Why not bring some industry experts who are willing to volunteer their time into the discussion about the feasibility and mechanics of managing filters on the library network; phone the mastermind behind the filters at Web TV and the former president of the national system administrators professional organization, SAGE.
Call your local branch for information about the next meeting of the King County Library System; bring your ideas and help make your library all that you desire it to be.