The Burlington News
Tuesday, May 12, 1998
pages N1,N3

New board lobbied for Net limits

Library fight resumes

Availability of pornography on Internet focus of campaign by two fathers.

by Carmela Fragomeni,

Two Burlington fathers are hoping the new library board supports their fight against children having easy access to Internet pornography at the library.

David Auger and Al Macintosh have been trying for months to get measures which could prevent children from seeing pornography on library computers. Next week, with a new board now in place, they'll try again.

Bu McMaster University professor David Jones says their wishes are overkill for a relatively small problem. The library has received only two formal complaints - Auger's and Macintosh's.

Chief Librarian Wendy Schick said three or four more incidents have happened since, but none involved children.

Despite little success in getting changes, Auger and MacIntosh remain undeterred - as do uninhibited Internet access supported.

The issue returns to the library board meeting May 21. But this time, Auger and MacIntosh have the open support of library board member and city councillor John Taylor.

If a library staff report doesn't recommend action, Taylor will introduce measures for the board's consideration.

"I doubt staff will recommend (action). It'll have to be an initiative by the board", Taylor said.

Taylor favours Internet use agreements which parents and children must sign, much like those used by the Catholic and public school systems. The library board rejected such an arrangement in February.

Alternatively, he wants filters used to block out pornographic sites.

The library has tried to control the situation by moving computers to areas with less traffic. But the two fathers and Taylor believe that's not near enough.

'Bad omen'

Both fathers were at the Tansley Woods branch on separate occasions months ago when their young children - who were not using the computers - were inadvertently exposed to pornographic material, left on nearby computer screens by older children.

Auger was disappointed the board voted down the Internet agreement. "I was astounded", he said. "It's a bad omen for the City of Burlington."

Jones, who is also president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a civil rights group promoting uninhibited access to the Internet, meanwhile, believes Auger is misguided in trying to limit access.

Jones has contacted 200 people on his e-mail to alert them to the Burlington situation and of the library board meeting after Auger made it clear on a TV talk show that he is not satisfied with the steps taken so far.

Jones says comparing measures employed by the school board and the library is not a fair exercise.

"School staff are acting in place of the parents. For example, if a child walks out of a classroom and onto the street and gets hurt, the school is responsible. Staff are responsible for their safety and well-being. That same situation does not apply to library staff - they are not babysitters. They don't play the same role (as teachers)."

He said he can't fault Auger for wanting to do the right thing for kids, but said the frequency of this problem is so small, "we don't need a sledgehammer to deal with it". There are 50,000 hours of use on the Internet at the Burlington library, and "if we have two incidents a year, this seems like overkill".

What: Burlington Public Library Board Meeting
Issue: Safeguards to minimize children being exposed to pornography on the Internet at the library.
When: Thursday, May 21
Time: 6:30 pm
Where: Seminar Room, Central Public Library, New Street.

Delegations must register ahead of time with the library administration offices.

Copyright © 1998 by The Burlington News. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.