Burlington Public Library Board Meeting, January 29th, 1998
My name is Alan MacIntosh. I am a resident of Burlington and have resided in the area for the past 9 years. I am not going to take up the Board's time relating what happened at the Tansley Woods Branch of the Public Library in relation to pornography on the Internet - it has been well reported and it is the reason we are here today.
I believe the discussion here today is very simple. Is the Burlington Public Library System going to continue to permit the display of Pornographic Material on the Internet-accessible monitors in their Libraries?
I understand that the control of the Library is the responsibility of this Board, however the City of Burlington and the Honourable Mayour MacIsaac should pay particular attention to this issue. It is not the Library Board who is going to take the heat from this issue. It is the City of Burlington's reputation that is going to be called into question. is this City prepared to be known as a place where it's youth has virtually unlimited access to pornography at a publicy tax-funded institution?
I have not known Dave Auger for very long, but one thing I have realized is that he is a very determined individual and he will not stop until this issue is dealt with in a manner that is acceptable to the public at large. We have already been part of a radio talk show in Hamilton and the response from the citizens was overwhelmingly in favour of our position. Our last conversation was about doing the TV talk-show route and again it is not the Library Board we will be discussing; it will be the City of Burlington.
Our position is that the Library has a responsibility to control the material that our youth is subjected to at the Public Library. We have not once suggested that the Internet be removed from the Library system. It certainly has it's good points, but with that it also has it's bad. Those of us who have had access to the Internet are well aware that it is the Super Highway of information, however there are no controls on the Internet and anything goes with respect to what can be obtained.
When I was dealing with the Library staff on this issue, one response I received over and over again was: people have a right to their privacy in the Library and we do not want to be the Internet Police and keep looking over people's shoulders. This response is somewhat confusing being that the board is responsible for evaluating the material available in the Library. I am quite confident that the books on the shelves have been reviewed by the staff and they are aware of the contents of each. So in essence the staff are looking over people's shoulders when they are reading a book or using reference material in the library. So the question is, why should the Internet be any different?
If each Web site was treated as a new entry in the Library inventory then I am sure that the pornographic material that people, particularly children, are accessing would not pass the criteria for acceptable reading material.
With the speed at which the Internet access information this would of course be an impossible task, however if the Library is going to have Internet access they have a responsibility to be aware of the material being viewed. I believe the simple answer to this problem is to have the Internet accessible terminals placed in a position that can be continually monitored by staff while they are doing other job-related tasks. Knowing that the terminals are being monitored will deter people from accessing sites which are not suitable for public viewing. If people do [access inappropriate sites] the Library staff have the authority to put a stop to it and ask the individual to leave the Library.
Presently the Internet-accessible terminals can be viewed by anyone who happens to walk by. In fact, many times you will see kids standing behind the terminals waiting their turn to get on so they are subjected to the material others are viewing. It's not just a matter of what the kids are accessing themselves, but what anyone using the terminal is accessing.
I have always thought of the Library as a place where you could take you children knowing that they were going to a place where they could have free access to available material that has been subjected to some scrutiny. I have not yet gone into a Library where there is a Pornography section where you could grab the latest edition of Playboy or Penthouse and sit down and read it, which in reality is what the Internet gives you.
The City of Burlington has seen fit to pass a Bylaw which requires Variety stores to have Pornographic Material placed in an area high enough and obscured enough so children and others who may be offended by it are not subjected to it in public. So why should the Public Library be any different?
Should the Library Board see fit to keep things as they are, another alternative is to approach a Justice of the Peace and have a Private information laid either in relation to the Bylaw or pertinent sections dealing with Pornography in the Criminal Code and let the Judiciary decide what is acceptable and what is not. The Provincial Government has seen fit to organize a Task Force, Project P, which deals with Pornography in Ontario. It would certainly be interesting to find out if this situation falls within their mandate. I am sure that anyone, be it a private citizen or a government institution, who is allowing free access to Pornography on the Internet would be of interest to them.
When I had my experience with the Pornography on the Internet in October of 1996, the first response was "Oh, are they at it again?" and the staff member walked over and moved the kids away from the terminal and within minutes they were back on. When I brought it up again I was told if I didn't like their policy I could fill out a comment card. By the time I was done I had filled in three. I didn't receive a call regarding my comment cards, even though I asked to have someone call me. Then I was reading the Burlington Post a week or so later and there was a picture of a number of CEO's from Burlington Companies donating a cheque to Tansley Woods to help fund programs there.
This prompted my call to the advertising editor to see if they were aware of the pornography available on the Internet and how would these CEO's feel if they knew what they were so proudly helping to sponsor. Of course my comments were met with disbelief and I asked them to check into it themselves which they did and were informed by the Library staff that in fact it was happening and there wasn't really much they could do about it. I received a call back from the editor the next day which resulted in the article in their paper.
I think it is fitting that this Board be made aware that everyone I have spoken to reacts the same, with disbelief, so it's not like Dave and I are radicals trying to control peoples' lives. We are simply average citizens who have come across this situation and do not think it is acceptable.
The steps presently being taken in the Library include a sign that warns parents that they are responsible for the material their children view on the Internet, however it is not a prerequisite that a child entering the Library have a parent with them. Any time I have been in the Library, there has been a disproportionate amount of children to adults, which plainly shows that no all children are supervised while they are there. I am sure that a 12- or 13-year-old is not going to ask mom or dad to come to the Library with them so they can view sexually explicit pictures on the Internet. And yet parents who are at the Library supervising their kids and have no intention on using the Internet have to be conscious at all times where their kids are walking to prevent them from viewing material that I believe any rational person, be it scholar or layman, would agree is not suitable for a 5-year-old. I would challenge any person in this room to stand up and publicly state that pornography depicting sexually degrading material is suitable for a child of 5 years.
Personally, we have Internet access on our computer at home and have had for 4 years. Access to the Internet on our computer is password-protected so ether my wife or myself have to be present for our kids to use it. We are present while it is being used and can monitor what is coming up. We don't have to sit and look over our kids shoulders because they know what is acceptable in our home and you never know when mom and dad are going to pop into the room, which I guarantee you is frequently.
There are services available, such as Clean Net, which do their best to screen out unsuitable sites, however even those services can be beaten by a programmer who knows which key words to use and not to use. It still comes down to the Library staff being responsible for the material coming into the Library.
The excuse that people want to research breast cancer, which these services may screen out, or that someone has found a job directly as a result of the Internet, are in my opinion pretty lame [arguments] for allowing free access. There is no doubt plenty of reference material on Breast Cancer within the library for anyone who wants information to get it. As for finding a job on the Internet, I don't believe part of the Library's mandate is helping people find jobs. Of course it is a bonus but isn't the reason we have employment centers to help people find employment? If the Board decides that there must be free access to adults then put a terminal in a separate room away from general viewing and our children and let them go to it.
If there is a line up for this terminal or if people have to go on a waiting list to use it, then so be it. It is no different that the system now in place for people who want to reserve a book. I was in the Library in the beginning of December last year and tried to take out the new Clive Cussler novel which wasn't available so I went on the waiting list. I was 89th on the list at that time and still have not received the call that the book is available. I have used this process in the past and when the book was available I was called by the LIbrary staff and went over and picked it up. I am not trying to suggest the staff are not doing their job. In fact they do a good job but they can only follow the directions given by this board.
As for the excuse that people have the right to privacy in the Library, I would like to know which statute or where in our Constitution it states that someone has the right to do something which is socially unacceptable in a public place. As a matter of fact, many of our laws today have been written to govern what a person can and cannot do in public.
It would be a perfect world if everyone's desires could be fulfilled without affecting others, but that is not the way it is. What is suitable for adults is not always suitable for children and I would ask the Board to take that into consideration when they review their present policly in relation to the Internet. That and a little bit of common decency.
Thankyou for giving me the opportunity to speak.