Staff Report on Internet Access at Burlington Public Library
May 15, 1998
At the February 1998 meeting of the Burlington Public Library Board staff presented a plan for responding to concerns expressed by members of the community about the Library's Internet access. In addition, the Board moved that staff review the wording of the Library's Internet use guidelines and registration form (Motion #98-10). This report provides a brief update on measures proposed in the February 1998 staff report and on the Board's motion. Additional information on the items discussed in this report will be provided by staff in a presentation scheduled for the May Board meeting.
As reported in February, the twenty public Internet workstations available throughout the library system provide an invaluable service to the community. They are heavily used and, for some library users, are the only means of accessing the Internet. Cases of misuse continue to be the exception, rather than the rule. For the most part Internet users respect the Library's guidelines and the sensibilities of other library users.
While Library staff remains committed to intellectual freedom, we recognize that the Internet contains materials that some library users will find inappropriate. In our ongoing review of the Library's Internet service we have attempted to find measures that respect both points of view. This is reflected in the recommendations made later in this report.
Status of Measures outlined in February 1998 Staff Report
The following measures that were proposed in staff's
February 1998 report
have been successfully completed or implemented.
The following item has been investigated but no viable solutions have been found to date. Staff will continue to pursue this option:
- Raise awareness of our Internet guidelines and consequences for misuse.
- Improve signage at public computers.
- Provide guidelines to new library users when they register.
- Write staff guidelines to help staff enforce our Internet guidelines.
- Post signs encouraging Internet users to return to the library homepage.
- Conduct two-month pilot projects with the public.
- Relocate Internet access from one of the public terminals on the information desk at
Tansley Woods and collect public input.
- Test privacy screens on two public computers, one at Central Library and one at Tansley Woods, and collect public input.
- Continue to focus on user education by offering tutorials, brochures, and user guides in print and on our homepage on an ongoing basis.
- Continuously monitor developments in Internet technology to identify ways to improve our service.
- Monitor developments in timeout software.
- Safety on the Internet Workshops
- In February, staff announced plans to offer workshops about safety on the Internet. One in a series of workshops planned for parents this fall will address this topic.
- Locations of Public Computers and Use of Privacy Devices
- The locations of public computers in all library locations and use of privacy screens have been reviewed. This review considered a number of factors including an individual's right to privacy, the risk of vandalism, staff sightlines, budget impact, and the needs of the physically disabled.
Of the 183 Internet users surveyed, 77% were in favour of using privacy screens. Based on this feedback, additional screens will be puchased. Including the two screens already in use, thirteen computers will be equipped with privacy screens at a total cost of $1,950. The screens increase an individual's privacy and reduce the risk of other library users being exposed to materials they may find offensive.
The pilot project that relocated one terminal at the Tansley Woods Branch resulted in favourable reactions from both library users and staff. As a result, the computer will remain in its new location. While still within staff sightlines, the new location is in an area with less traffic than the information desk.
In light of the decision to use additional privacy screens and the recommendations outlined below regarding filtering, there are no short term plans to relocate other public computers. As the budget permits, some changes will be made to locations to improve staff sightlines.
Our review identified the need to improve accessibility to the disabled both at Internet and B.I.R.O.N. workstations. Some workstations in all locations were originally designed to be accessible but have been modified or moved. All these workstations will be examined over the next month to ensure they still comply with specifications for wheelchair accessibility. Measures will be taken to rectify any problems identified by this review. At Tansley Woods Branch terminals in the children's area are accessible to wheelchairs. Since Internet access is not available at those computers, staff is considering other means of providing Internet access to the disabled.
- While staff remain concerned about the limitations of filters, we respect the fact that some users may prefer to use a computer where filtering is in place. We also acknowledge concerns expressed by library customers regarding the risk of exposing young children to graphic sexual images on public Internet access PC monitors. For these reasons we are recommending that a mix of filtered and unfiltered computers be offered at library locations. In order to respect intellectual freedom rights, it is essential that we continue to offer some computers with unfiltered access.
That staff provide a mix of unfiltered and filtered public Internet access workstations as follows:
That staff select the most appropriate filtering software with the objective to block sites which contain pornography and graphic sexual images, that is software which allows us to respect the spirit of the City of Burlington's adult magazine bylaw.
- All of the workstations (three) in the Central Childrenís Department.
- One workstation on each floor of the Central Adult Services Department.
- Two of the four workstations at the Tansley Woods Branch Library.
- When budget permits, install one additional workstation with filtering software at Aldershot, New Appleby, and Tyandaga Branches. (Currently these branches are equipped with a single public computer providing Internet access.)
That the public workstations which are not filtered be equipped with privacy screens.
Rationale for Filtering Some Workstations
The following summarizes staff's rationale for making these recommendations:
Response to the community
- The measures recommended by staff are a response to the concerns expressed by some community members about the inadvertent exposure of children to graphic sexual images and the opportunity for children to access such images on the Internet.
- The recommendations recognize that the measures taken to date were not seen as adequately preventing the exposure and/or access to graphic sexual images on public Internet access workstations by children.
- The recommendations also reflect that community members deemed the installation of privacy screens as a positive measure in the two-month pilot project at the Central and Tansley Woods locations.
- Most of the incidents thus far have been the result of behaviour problems. The combination of filtered terminals and privacy screens would significantly reduce such occurrences.
- The measures provide an additional preventative measure (over and above the Internet Use Rules) that would decrease the likelihood of children being exposed to graphic sexual images on public Internet workstation monitors.
- Filtering based on Internet addresses, rather than on keywords would preserve the integrity of other search tools mounted on the same computers (e.g., EbscoHost and the library's catalogue).
Provides a Choice
- A mix of filtered and unfiltered access would offer library customers a choice.
- The option of unfiltered or filtered access to the Internet preserves the right of individuals to make their own choices when searching for information.
Acknowledgement of the Spirit of the City of Burlington's Adult Magazine Bylaw
- By filtering some workstations the library is working within the spirit of the municipal bylaw regarding adult magazines (restrictions on the display of graphic sexual images to children).
Library staff is reviewing the marketplace to identify the product that best meets our needs and the costs we would incur in implementing this recommendation.
RESPONSE TO BOARD MOTION #98-10
The Board passed the following motion at its February 1998 meeting:
Moved by R. MacIsaac, Seconded by J. Sweetlove that staff review the wording of Burlington Public Library's Internet use guidelines and the registration form and report back to the Board.
- Internet Use Guidelines
- A complete copy of the guidelines is attached to this report. Since February 1998, several revisions have been made which are consistent with the Internet Access Policy approved by the Board in May 1996. In order to raise awareness of the nature of the Internet and its use in a public building, staff has added the following to the guidelines:
- Users should be aware that they are working in a public environment shared by people of all ages and sensibilities. Please refrain from accessing Internet sites which may disturb other users.
- BPL assumes responsibility only for the information provided on its home pages. Not all Internet sources provide accurate, complete, age-appropriate, or current information. It is the userís responsibility to question the validity of any information.
- Parents or guardians are responsible for monitoring the Internet activity of their children.
In addition, the Internet Use Guidelines will be highlighted on the default web page used on all our public computers. Users will be informed that by proceeding they are agreeing to comply with the Library's guidelines. This feature is under development by the Library's webmasters.
- Registration Form
- Restricting Internet access to registered borrowers would be extremely labour intensive. It would require staff intervention and verification of patron records for each Internet session. This would divert a significant amount of staff time from other public service duties such as providing reference help and reader's advisory. For these reasons it would be impractical to use the registration form or any other form of Internet user agreement.
In preparing the recommendations in this report library staff have attempted to find a means of both addressing the concerns expressed by some members of the community and respecting intellectual freedom and privacy rights. We feel we have achieved this by providing library users with a choice to use filtered or unfiltered Internet access and through the use of privacy screens on computers with unfiltered access. As a whole, the measures we are adopting will reduce the risk of library users being exposed to inappropriate materials. As is the case with all library services, staff will continue to monitor developments in this area in an effort to identify further enhancements.
Staff Report on Internet Access at Burlington Public Library
May 15, 1998
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