Staff members of the Burlington Public Library are going back to school to find solutions to their Internet woes.
The library board directed staff to examine Internet access policies for students of the public and Catholic Halton school boards. The trustees decided on that course after once again wrestling with the issue of keeping pornographic or sexually explicit material way from children.
City councillor John Taylor, a board member, was strongly in favour of copying the school boards' procedures. He said the boards require students and parents to sign Internet usage agreements prohibiting access to all offensive material.
"I've never agreed with the (Burlington Public Library) children's policy as regards Internet access", he told the board.
The problem came to the board's attention after two parents complained their children had viewed sexual images left on one of the library's terminals by other users. Thursday's meeting highlighted the dilemma facing the board and library staff. Finding agreement was easier said than done. Trustees couldn't seem to agree on how to deal with the issue of children's access on the Net.
The board came close to passing a two-part motion directing staff to examine Internet guidelines at the school boards, and formulate a similar guide for library patrons ages 18 and under. The second half of the motion directed staff to consider other ways of restricting youth access, such as a special computer password or presenting their library card to staff prior to each use.
Staff said the card option is no economically feasible and the password solution is not yet possible. Deputy chief librarian Sonia Lewis said staff had not found a software company that could tie in the library's patron database with the Internet service.
She favoured public education over restrictive measures, to avoid "creating a community of information haves and have-nots".
Access concerns are not new, Lewis said, noting that the library system has had usage guidelines and user tutorials since it joined Halinet in September 1996.
"You cannot completely eliminate the problem."
Older children sometimes pull pranks such as leaving pornographic websites online.
Lewis said staff revisited the issues after a complaint from a patron whose daughter was exposed to a pornographic website in January at Tansley Woods Library.
The girl's father, David Auger, and Al MacIntosh, whose daughter was exposed to a picture of a semi-naked woman a year ago, attended the meeting and re-iterated their support for restricted access.
Lewis said her department is exploring new measures such as increased signage spelling out usage polices near each PC, specific guidelines for staff, a privacy screen pilot project, and a Tansley Woods pilot project where staff will experiment with computer positioning and monitoring. A $200 privacy screen will beplaced on one terminal at both the Central and Tansley Woods locations, and public feedback will be collected and forwarded to a new task force comprised of staff from various locations. The task force is expected to come up with a list of recommendations by the end of April.
Lewis said Burlington Public Lirbary has about 20 computers, and provides about 250,000 hours of Internet access to patrons each year.