The public library in Post Falls is a guinea pig in an experiment in public access to the latest information technology.
While libraries statewide are exploring Internet access and training their staff to use the global computer network, Post Falls’ library is one of the first to allow library patrons to explore the network themselves.
Library users cannot expect expert assistance from the library staff. The on-line territory is new to them, too.
“We want everybody to know this is going to be rough going at first,” said Post Falls library director Joe Reiss.
“The end result will be worth the pain.”
The computer is stationed near the check-out desk so librarians can keep on eye on its use. Patrons can browse the World Wide Web, but “chat rooms” and news groups are off-limits to eliminate the problem of children communicating with dangerous people.
“It can be dangerous, just like you can have someone come in the library skulking around,” said state library consultant Marge Hooper. “We have to protect our patrons.”
The problem with news groups also is technical. With one computer and a multitude of users, it’s difficult to provide a means for individuals to communicate.
The Post Falls library also does not have electronic mail for patrons.
Hooper, who’s helping libraries in southwestern Idaho get online, said it’s unlikely libraries will otherwise control where patrons “surf.”
“Libraries support the freedom to read policies,” she said. “We can’t put ourselves up as the morals or the law for anyone.”
So far, the only rule posted above the computer is a time limit. The library board is working on a broader policy for Internet use.
The biggest problem the library has had so far was an over-eager teenage boy who jammed the computer’s hard drive with information taken from the Internet.
“The ones who are the most astute are the teenagers,” Reiss said.
“Here in Post Falls, we’re hoping to draft some teenagers into a tutorial corps.”
The public access terminal is the result of a state technology grant to provide Internet access to the Kootenai County Library District, Post Falls Library and Kootenai Medical Center library.
The libraries also now have access to library catalogues all over the world.
That means a patron can locate a document on another continent. The problem, Reiss said, is bringing that book or document here.
“We’re some of the people who have to figure out how to make the (information) highway work,” Reiss said.
The Kootenai County library system expects to provide public terminals for Internet use within a few months, said John Hartung, co-director of the library district.
“Post Falls Library has graciously taken the lead,” Hartung said.
“We’re taking a little more cautious line.”
Under a separate grant, Coeur d’Alene Public Library also has Internet access, but no public terminal at this point.
The library has tentative plans to provide the public a terminal within the next year.
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