Sunday, June 8, 2008

Library Admits Filters Work and People Want Them; Boulder Public Library Defies ALA

The Boulder Public Library is saying Internet filters work well and people want them. This is the exact opposite of what the American Library Association wants people to think. See "Boulder Library Computers May Feature Porn Filter," by Ryan Morgan, Boulder & County News, June 5, 2008. All of these people are saying things anathema to the ALA:
  • Colorado passed a law regarding state-wide Internet filtering ( http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib/Filtering.htm ) in 2004, and filters have vastly improved since then. Filters have improved so much that Ray Ingraham, the library's computer services manager, said, "I believe filtering has come a long ways." "I think all of the objections that people had are probably gone."
  • Library spokeswoman Jennifer Bray said it is common for unfiltered computers to be used for porn viewing.
  • Library commissioner Steve Clason said, "I don't object to people reading, or stores selling, Hustler magazine ... but I don't think it would be appropriate for us to use public funds to purchase it for the library collection." "Similarly, I don't think that making Hustler.com available is an appropriate use of public funds, or that preventing its access from publicly owned computers is censorship."
  • "Commissioner Stephen Topping said it might make sense to install a new system now, especially since filtering software could work well with a terminal-reservation system the library just installed."
These statements directly oppose ALA diktat that 1) filters don't work, 2) porn viewing is rare, 3) filters may lead to or actually be censorship, and 4) filters don't make sense. (Also, they oppose the ACLU view that pornography is legal and must therefore be provided in a public library.) The Boulder Public Library is essentially defying the ALA on these issues, though not in any open or obvious fashion.

SafeLibraries takes note that these library employees and commissioners are speaking the truth and are not afraid to say so. They should be considered as role models for other communities. Their community should recognize them for keeping the public trust instead of acting to spread the ALA's influence in yet another local library. I will be happy to provide further information if requested.

And credit goes to the media as well for not allowing the usual ALA propaganda to bias the report. The heading could have been written with the usual ALA slant, but that was not done in this case. What a breath of fresh air.

Bravo all around.

Boulder Library Computers May Feature Porn Filter

John Braus surfs the Internet at the Boulder Public Library's main branch Wednesday. Braus recently moved from Austin and is using the library's computers until he can get his own service set up.

Photo by Paul Aiken

John Braus surfs the Internet at the Boulder Public Library's main branch Wednesday. Braus recently moved from Austin and is using the library's computers until he can get his own service set up.

The Boulder Public Library's patrons may find a filtered Internet in the near future -- but officials say most Web surfers probably won't notice the change.

Members of the city's Library Commission on Wednesday night were scheduled to discuss their options for buying software to screen out porn from Internet connections, four years after a state law passed that requires libraries to do so.

Ray Ingraham, the library's computer services manager, said the library has resisted the technology since the state Legislature imposed the requirement in 2004 by pleading financial distress -- which, under the law, gave library officials more time. Filtering systems can cost nearly $20,000 to install and up to $40,000 annually to maintain.

But the budget situation has improved slightly, and this spring commissioners asked Ingraham to spell out how they might go about complying with the law.

When state lawmakers imposed the filtering law, Ingraham said, the software was still crude, blocking educational Web sites about human sexuality, for example, or medical references to breast cancer.

Those days are pretty much past, Ingraham said.

"I believe filtering has come a long ways," he said. "I think all of the objections that people had are probably gone."

The state law -- which was written to avoid the First Amendment pitfalls that got earlier legislative attempts thrown out of court -- requires librarians to disable the filters upon request.

It's not uncommon for patrons today to use the library's unfiltered computers to look at pornographic pictures, library spokeswoman Jennifer Bray said.

When staff members hear complaints about graphic pictures, they ask the people looking at them to stop, she said.

"If it's a repeated issue, they can be banned for a day, a week, a month or a year" for each offense, Bray said. She said library officials just last week imposed a year-long ban on a patron who wouldn't stop looking at porn.

Library commissioner Steve Clason said he's inclined to support installing the filtering technology now that the library has a little more money, and because the technology has improved so much in the past few years.

It makes more sense to automatically screen some content rather than having library staff members spend their time chasing porn viewers, he said.

"I don't object to people reading, or stores selling, Hustler magazine ... but I don't think it would be appropriate for us to use public funds to purchase it for the library collection," he said. "Similarly, I don't think that making Hustler.com available is an appropriate use of public funds, or that preventing its access from publicly owned computers is censorship."

Commissioner Stephen Topping said it might make sense to install a new system now, especially since filtering software could work well with a terminal-reservation system the library just installed. A change in the location of some terminals gives kids easier access to unfiltered Internet content as well, which is another reason to make the move, he said.

But Topping said he's concerned about the cost, and he wants to make sure installing the system won't hurt the libraries' ability to provide basic services.

"If there were a community clamor for it, that would have some impact, but we're not hearing that right now," he said.

As he checked his e-mail at a Boulder Public Library terminal, Spencer Hennigan, 25, said the proposed move toward filtering doesn't bother him. The library's a public place, he said -- which makes it a less-than-ideal spot for looking at porn.

"I can see why we want to protect kids from that stuff," he said.

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