At the January 1998 Board meeting we heard from three members of the community about Burlington Public Library's Internet service. Two fathers, Mr. Auger and Mr. MacIntosh expressed concerns about their children being inadvertently exposed to inappropriate materials left on library computer screens. The third speaker, Dr. Jones urged us to protect an individual's right to privacy and freedom of expression.
Subsequent to the Board meeting, staff had further opportunities to discuss these concerns with each of the delegations. While there may be differences in the concerns expressed by these three library users, there is also some common ground. There is general agreement that the Internet is a valuable resource to people of all ages and the public library has a role in delivering this service.
Staff believe the concerns brought to the Board's attention can be addressed. It is the purpose of this report to explain how we will accomplish this.
As more and more resources, particularly reference and government documents, are published solely in electronic form, the value of the Internet and the Library's dependence on the Internet in the provision of information services increase. At the same time, schools and government agencies are developing resources and curriculum for students which depend on their ability to access Internet resources outside of the classroom. Businesses are finding Internet access is critical for them to remain competitive. Through its Network 2000 project the provincial government has recognized the critical role public libraries must play in ensuring citizens of all ages have access to the information super highway.
Library staff took responsibility for outlining appropriate behaviour and use of the Internet, educating library users about the Internet and facilitating access to appropriate sites. Specific measures taken prior to 1998 include:
As long as the Library continues to offer Internet access, and it is staff's strong recommendation that we do so, we cannot totally eliminate the risk of exposing someone to materials he or she may find offensive. We can, however, take additional measures to reduce this risk.
The overwhelming majority of our Internet users do not abuse the service. Any measures we implement must recognize this. Our actions must be directed at the few individuals who cause the problem, rather than at the whole library community.
By the end of March clearer signage will be prepared to ensure the public is aware of our Internet guidelines and the consequences for misusing the service. When new library users register, every effort will be made to bring their attention to our Internet guidelines.
To assist staff in doing their job, written guidelines will be prepared within the next month outlining steps to be taken when the service is misused. These guidelines will be consistent with the manner in which we deal with other cases of misconduct in library facilities. Consequences will progress from a verbal warning to eviction from the library.
It was suggested at the last Board meeting that we consider adopting a zero tolerance policy. Due to the complex nature of the Internet, some library users inadvertently access offensive materials and should not be penalized for this. Staff feel users should be given the opportunity to modify their behaviour and will first issue a warning and reminder of our Internet guidelines.
In considering this solution staff must balance a number of factors: the individual's right to privacy, the risk of vandalism, staff sightlines, budget impact and the needs of the physically disabled.
The task force's activities will start with two pilot projects, each involving the public. The first of these comes out of our recent meeting with Mr. Auger and Mr. MacIntosh. Recognizing that it is in a high traffic area, Internet access will be removed from the computer on the information desk closest to the children's area at Tansley Woods Branch. The Internet access now provided at the information desk will be moved to a computer which provides more privacy but can be monitored by staff. Tansley Woods' staff will evaluate this on a two month trial basis to determine if it is a workable solution. This will not reduce the number of Internet workstations at Tansley Woods, it simply relocates them. In order to provide equitable access to the disabled, one of the public computers at the information desk will continue to offer the Internet.
The second project will test the use of privacy screens on two public computers, one in Adult Services at Central Library and one at the Tansley Woods Branch. The two screens will cost approximately $400. A privacy screen covers the monitor so that only the person directly in front of the screen can view its content. From the sides a dark screen is visible. During March and April we will test these screens and gather public and staff input. If the input is positive we will equip some of the public terminals with these screens, thereby providing users with a choice. Given that these screens restrict group work, for example a parent and child working together, it will not be feasible to install privacy screens at all public computers.
At the January Board meeting it was proposed that we locate Internet workstations in separate rooms. While we understand the concerns that led to this suggestion, due to space and staffing limitations it is not feasible to implement. An unsupervised room would likely result in increased misuse of the service and vandalism and limit staff's ability to provide adequate user instruction.
For many children the public library is their sole means of accessing the Internet. While it is important to take steps to reduce their exposure to inappropriate materials, we must also continue to foster children's use of the Internet.
The Library has an important role to play with teens and acknowledges the need to focus more on this age group. As with younger children, we need to communicate acceptable use policies to teens, but at the same time must help them develop the Internet skills that they will need in the future.
It has been suggested that as a means of control only registered users be given access to our Internet service. With the current systems we have no means of allowing users to logon and off themselves. The staff intervention required to logon each Internet user cannot be accommodated with current staffing levels. More importantly, it would not eliminate the problem of some users deliberately accessing sites which others may find offensive. Some of the other measures proposed in this report would be a more effective use of staff time and are more likely to reduce the problem.
In addition to training, we will help users navigate the Internet by continuing to develop and promote lists of recommended sites both in print and on our homepage.
|Raise awareness of our Internet guidelines and consequences for misuse:|
|- Improve signage at public computers||March 31|
|- Provide guidelines to new library users||Ongoing|
|Write staff guidelines to help staff enforce our Internet guidelines||March 31|
|Post signs encouraging Internet users to return to the library homepage||March 31|
|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||April 30|
|- Test privacy screens at Central Library and Tansley Woods' and collect public input||April 30|
|Make recommendations re: location of public computers and use of devices such as privacy screens at all library locations||May 15|
|Continue to monitor developments in filtering technology||Ongoing|
|Offer workshops about safety on the Internet||Ongoing|
|Continue to focus on user education by offering tutorials, brochures, and user guides in print and on our homepage||Ongoing|
|Monitor developments in timeout software||Ongoing|
|Monitor developments in Internet technology to identify ways to improve our service||Ongoing|