Computers and pornography: Library District Internet policy explained

Recent letters to this newspaper (Stop library porn viewing,” June 23; “Protect young eyes,” June 30; “Time for discussion,” June 30) have expressed concern over patrons viewing objectionable content on Hood River County Library District’s publicly accessible computers and networks.

HRCLD’s board of directors will be addressing these concerns at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. the Jeanne Marie Gaulke Meeting Room at the Hood River Library. The public is encouraged to attend and have their views heard.

Some have suggested that HRCLD install content filters on its networks. For those who are unaware, content filters are software designed to block computer users from accessing certain material on the Internet. Depending on the criteria set by an organization’s policies, such content could include anything from nudity, sexual content and hate speech to social networking, literary erotica and information about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Typically, content filters can be overridden, although it requires a computer user to ask a staff member. While filtering technology has developed remarkably over the past several years, they still block wanted as well as unwanted content.

For instance, filters may block sites related to breast cancer, support sites for GLBT youth, and others.

Per our Internet and Computer Use Policy, HRCLD does not filter any publicly accessible computers or networks. This continues the policy of the previous county-run library. This is one of among many approaches public libraries around the state have taken.

Some, like us, do not filter at all. Some filter all computers (The Dalles Wasco County Library). Others offer users an option when they initially log on (Multnomah County Library). Still others filter only for minors unless their parents/guardians indicate otherwise (Fort Vancouver Regional Library).

Libraries that accept any federal monies — for instance, through the E-Rate telecommunications reimbursement program — are required per the Children’s Internet Protection Act to filter all of their networks, public and staff. HRCLD does not receive any federal monies and therefore is not subject to this requirement.

While HRCLD does not filter its networks, we have procedures in place if a computer user is viewing content objectionable to others. If we receive a complaint, staff will approach the person and remind him/her that s/he is in a public place and ask him/her to please use discretion in what s/he views.

Typically the individual will then change his/her viewing habits. In our year of being open, I, as the typical enforcer of the policy, have only approached four individuals in this manner, although other staff likely have had such interactions as well.

Additionally, our Internet and Computer Use Policy forbids conducting illegal activities on our equipment and networks. This includes activities such as viewing child pornography, violating copyright laws and distributing or creating malicious software.

However, it is also illegal to show pornography to children, thus giving us a tool to prevent people from viewing pornography in confined spaces with children present, such as the Cascade Locks and Parkdale branches or the children’s area at the Hood River branch. This situation has only arisen once, to my knowledge.

The preceding text explains HRCLD’s general policies and practices. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions, comments or concerns: 541-387-7062 or buzzy@hoodriverlibrary.org.

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Buzzy Nielsen is director of the Hood River County Library District, a taxing district separate from any other. Nielsen notes, “I have also provided my personal opinion as a professional librarian, which is based on my 17 years of experience in the library profession. It is not the official opinion of HRCLD or its board of directors.”

In it, Nielsen states, “Even with its vast quantities of objectionable — and illegal — content, to filter the Internet, just as with censoring materials within the library, would detract from the medium as a whole, a medium that thrives on freedom.”

For space reasons, Nielsen’s column is available online at www.hoodrivernews.com.

Printed copies are available at the Hood River News front desk.

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