The Burlington Post
Friday, October 25, 1996
pages 1,16

Porn forces library to limit Internet access

by Paul Mitchison

Kids looking up pornography on the Internet has created an ethical problem for the Burlington Public Library.

The situation created such a large headache for staff at the new Tansley Woods branch that access to the Internet has been reduced for everyone, including adults.

Since Tuesday, library staff have been carefully supervising two remaining computers with Internet access, to ensure patrons are reading about the Pentagon, not Penthouse magazine.

"We're very disappointed because there are many good things on the Internet", said Wendy Schick, chief librarian. "But some people are abusing the privilege and making it uncomfortable for many people.

No privacy for adults

Because of the change, adults no longer have privacy when using the Internet. And Schick said supervising people represents an ethical problem for the library.

While children shouldn't be seeing pornographic pictures on computer monitors, she said adults should also have a right of confidentiality - particularly if looking up information on things like breast cancer or spousal abuse.

"There are lots of good reasons you don't want a staff person looking over your shoulder while on the Internet", said Schick. "So we're really drawn in a couple of different directions. We need to find a balance."

Al MacIntosh, of Bristol Drive, said he overheard a child telling his 11-year-old son they should go to the library to, "look at Penthouse pictures" on the computer.

After visiting the branch, the Peel police officer was "shocked" to see groups of youngsters viewing porn. One group had one child watching for the librarian, and signalling the others when she cam near.

MacIntosh said he complained to the library staff, but was told they couldn't keep constant watch. "I told them they should shut the thing off, rather than let kids look at things that aren't appropriate."

He said his two young sons have Internet access at home, but his computer requires a password, and he monitors what they see.

"There's no trick to getting at this stuff, you only have to put a couple of words in a search engine and up it comes", he said.

Library staff forced to hover over Internet computers

Other libraries across North America have resorted to software which attempts to block certain kinds of content. Others have issued special cards or required parental consent to allow children to use the Internet.

Schick said the library branch, which opened Sept. 14, has also received praise for offering the Internet and the vast amounts of information it makes available. One person found a job directly as a result of surfing for information found on the World Wide Web.

"It's too bad, because there's so much on the Internet that's valuable. But some teens and pre-teens have been looking at various chat lines and web sites that are inappropriate for children."

On Monday, there was effort to monitor young people on the four computers with Internet capability, she said. "But the staff ending up being Internet police all night and moving people away from terminals is not very productive."

Copyright © 1996 by The Burlington Post. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.