The Burlington News
Thursday, February 19, 1998

Library unlikely to impose 'Net ban

But board urged to get tough on porn

by Ross Longbottom

Burlington Public Library shouldn't restrict children's access to the Internet, but it should get tough on anyone posting pornography for all to see.

That is the recommendation library staff are making to the board in response to complaints and concerns about access on library terminals. The board, which receives the report tonight, may add other recommendations.

But for the moment, the report doesn't go far enough for at least one parent who, with her husband, complained when a partially nude woman's image was left on a computer screen that their child saw.

The recommendation calls for the library board not to restrict Internet access to children because it is a necessary educational tool and children should not be denied that opportunity.

Chief librarian Wendy Schick says staff will continue to monitor the situation as they, like the rest of the world, adapt.

"The technology is new; society needs to learn how to deal with it. I'm sure that when the printing press first came into being there were all kinds (of dilemmas) once you had this wide distribution. Pornography began almost with the first printing press."

Cindy MacIntosh, mother of one of the children who saw the images, says the staff actions are not enough.

"There has to be some kind of moral responsibility here. Children shouldn't have free access to it."

The library will take the following actions, among others the board may recommend.

Library board chairwoman, Susan Lawson, says staff did a good job preparing the report in a short time and reserved comment until after tonight's meeting.

She did, however, say she believes, "it's a balancing act", between the right to use the service and the protection of others.

The parents, who include police officers, David Auger and Al MacIntosh, say they don't want the library to act as censor, nor do they want patrons denied access to the Internet. They just want their children protected.

"We restrict children all the time in our society", says Auger.

Schick says the report also dismisses the use of programs which filter out certain sites and words. The library continues to look at CleanNet as well as other filters. CleanNet is a service blocking Internet sites by name rather than by topic. Blocking out by topic can make it impossible to research breast cancer, for example.

But Schick said even CleanNet can't block everything. "A new site is created every few minutes."

With 20 terminals in use at Burlington public libraries, there's a total of about 250,000 hours a year of Internet use, she says, and the majority use it in a reasonable manner.

"So I think what we're facing is this transition right now -- 90 per cent or maybe more of what's on the Internet is absolutely faculous - and we have to learn to control, as a society, what many of us consider as unacceptable", Shick added.

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