Truckee Library not affected by Internet protection law, County libraries may opt to purchase filtering software anyway
July 1, 2003
A woman enters a public library looking for information on breast cancer after a close family member was recently diagnosed with the disease. Wanting to learn about most up-to-date technological advances in combating the disease, she opts to use the library’s free Internet connection.
She can’t connect to any such source; the library’s Internet filtering software – installed to protect children from viewing pornography and other obscene material – stops her from pulling up Web pages with the word “breast.”
“It’s obviously pertinent information,” said Nevada County Librarian Steve Fjeldsted, who said she has seen this scenario in other libraries.
A recent Supreme Court decision upheld Congress’ Children’s Internet Protection Act and the requirement of such filtering software in some libraries. Additionally, the justices ruled that protection software must be easy for a librarian to disable.
The act, which will affect libraries receiving federal E-rate funding, was opposed by the American Library Association, which argued that the law violated the First Amendment rights of those who use public library internet access.
It’s a debate Fjeldsted said can be “persuasively argued either way.”
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Although libraries in the Nevada County system won’t be required by the law to install the software, Fjeldsted said he might purchase a filtering program for the children’s computers in the system’s six branches, including the Truckee Library, within the next year.
“Children don’t have the same freedom of information rights as adults,” Fjeldsted added.
As recently as 2000, the Nevada County Library system received E-rate funding to purchase telecommunications equipment. Librarians, however, will not be required to install filtering software on Nevada County Libraries’ computers, because the Children’s Internet Protection Act only applies to libraries currently using E-rate discounts for internal connections and Internet access.
Although filtering software may be in the Truckee Library’s future, librarian Lauri Ferguson said she holds parents accountable for their children’s Internet use.
Minors under age 18, who use Truckee Library’s Internet connection, must have their parents read a parent’s guide and sign a disclaimer form, which is kept on file and appears on the librarian’s computer when scanning a child’s library card.
The parent’s guide, a one-page document titled “A Safety Net for the Internet: A Parent’s Guide,” includes guidelines to minimize a child’s risk while using the Internet.
“We expect the parents to be responsible for what their children view,” Ferguson said.
Kern Barta, who has two boys, ages 4 and 7, said he agrees with Ferguson’s view.
“It’s definitely a parent’s responsibility. No question,” he said.
Barta added he will probably install filtering software in his home computer as his sons get older, but he still plans on teaching them what is unacceptable for viewing when the filters won’t be available, like at the Truckee Library.
Even though the Internet computers are not in full view of the library, Ferguson said people tend to be “responsible” with their Internet use.
“On the whole, people in Truckee are very interested in checking their e-mail and purchasing items online and not viewing questionable material,” she said.
When asked if anyone had ever been caught viewing questionable material, Ferguson answered, “We’ve never been in the position to tell someone to leave the computer.”
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