Pornograpy just one click away at local libraries

Every day, people walk in to the central branch of the Kitsap Regional Library system, sit down at a computer and view pornographic pictures of women or men.

Sometimes children are the ones surfing the web, but according to Ellen Newberg, the director of the library system, her employees never walk over and tap on any shoulders, telling the kids to knock it off.

They don’t have the right to be a parent or a policeman.

“We agonize over this,” she said. “It is a very tough call.

Newberg’s organization abides strictly to laws such as the first amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects a person’s right to uncensored and free speech, which includes images.

“But,” she said, “A lot of times, if you just walk up, kids will just click out of the site.”

According to Chapter 42.17.310 of the municipal Code of Washington State, any time a patron views a database page or Internet site it is confidential information.

But one piece of information unprotected by the first amendment and confidentiality clauses is child pornography.

On July 14, an officer was dispatched to the Central Branch of the Kitsap Library system (KRL) after an employee observed a man viewing child pornography on one of the public computers.

When the officer arrived, the man was already headed out the door, and when questioned, he denied accessing the sites. He later told the officer he was using the computer to view pornography because his wife told him not to do it at home.

Later, the officer searched the hard drive of the computer the man used, but unfortunately, it is equipped with a security device that deletes all the information, such as web sites hit, every time a person logs off.

To put it simply, confidentiality and privacy are the highest principals at the Kitsap Regional Library.

“We really never look at another person’s computer,” said Deputy Director of Branch Services Robin Cameron. She was the employee who alerted police a couple weeks ago.

“We have a lot of checks and balances in place to protect a person’s privacy.”

Cameron said that $20,000 has been spent in the last few months in order to move all of the 40 central branch computers to a location where people can view the Internet in more privacy.

Currently, patrons complain about the fact that to get to the main stacks of the library, you have to walk through a row of computers. Even with their plastic privacy screens, you can still get a good glance at what a person is looking at. Sometimes that includes pornography.

“It is a fine balance between respecting the person’s privacy and maintaining a safe public place,” Cameron said.

The only time Cameron would ever stop someone from viewing the Internet is if they are disturbing the people around them. Even then, the supervisory line is a thin one to walk.

“If there is no behavior issue then there is no problem,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the deputy director of the intellectual freedom branch of the American Library Association. She offers legal advice and advocacy for librarians all over the United States.

“We don’t think people should be monitored. By and large you trust your patrons. Librarians are not police officers. Librarians facilitate access to information. And libraries are not just about education. Its also about entertainment or self improvement.”

Currently, besides the software that automatically erases web tracks when a person signs off, the library has screens that allow a person to view a screen, but block sight access to the person to the direct right or left of them.

In its nine branches, 50 percent of the Kitsap Regional Library system’s 300 computers have internet filters on them.

It is a program called SmartSense, that categorizes information so that pornographic or obscene sites become unreachable.

They are touted as a solution for children’s internet access, but they are notoriously inaccurate.

“Filters are very much imperfect,” said Michael Schuyler, the deputy director of support services for the Kitsap Regional Library.

“They over-filter. They also tend to under-filter. Some of these porn sites change their web address everyday.”

Because it is a fallible program, a filter may block access to Dick Cheney’s web site because of the sexual reference of his first name, Schuyler said.

Or, it could block a popular magazine like Cosmopolitan because it may contain an explicit headline.

“The problem with filters is they don’t understand context,” said Schuyler.

Context means a ton in the library system. For instance, one of the reasons that KRL employees don’t tap on the shoulders of children when they are viewing naked women is that they view internet searching as research possibilities.

“It is a legitimate inquiry to ask about sex and safe sex practices,” said Caldwell-Stone. “Sexually explicit could be the driest medical text on procreation,” she said.

“It falls to the parent or the school to prevent and council kids on the Internet,” she said.

Newberg said in the six years she has worked for the library system, there have only been two incidents in which police were called because someone was viewing something illegal.

Most of the patrons who come in have a wonderful experience, Newberg said. Whenever a parent complains that library employees aren’t doing enough to monitor kids, they try to explain about library policy.

The KRL has created a pamphlet that outlines the different ways a parent can take an active role on their children’s internet viewing. It includes setting time limits and discussing sites that are inappropriate to view.

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