APRIL 7, 1997
Library in the middle of constitutional issue
by Bill Ptacek
Recent letters to the editor have commented on the pros and cons of full Internet access available through the library. While there may be issues about certain types of information available online, there is general agreement that the Internet expands the King County Library System's resources and offers library users of all ages the opportunity to explore its vast resources--for homework, research, or personal quests for information.
Ways in which the Internet has benefited library users beyond what is in the branch and in the collection include: the most up-to-date medical information, including treatment methods; job opportunities, including online applications; information in numerous languages; consumer updates; and resources for student homework assignments.
The library's role in providing technology services is one of transformation: helping people become comfortable in the use of technology for communication, learning, and access to information. The library offers all people in the community a place to try new computer technologies, enables those who may not have a computer at home to access sites, and provides training for all users in researching information in this global electronic format.
The Internet offers a multitude of sites, resources, and data that is unprecedented in scope and currency. We are aware that within this wide range of information, not all sites may be appropriate for all ages, and we will be installing "Bess," a filtering system on terminals located in the children's areas of libraries. This software will guide youngsters to child-friendly sites, including the Library System's KidsPage, and limit access to some types of material. We also offer Internet programs and resources for parents, and we encourage parents and children to visit the library and explore the Net together.
The Library System is in the middle of this complex issue: In order to keep people fully connected to this resource and to their freedom to do so without interference, we must offer full access to all constitutionally-protected materials. We await the Supreme Court's decision on the Communications Decency Act, we will await review of the library's role as this technology evolves, and we welcome comments (on forms available in the libraries or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Bill Ptacek is director of the King County Library System.