November 20, 2011 in Idaho

Libraries set to adjust to new Internet filtering law

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Ten-year-old Emma Wagner uses the Coeur d’Alene Public Library’s computers on Wednesday. Children’s computers there are filtered.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – On the lower level of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, 11 computers sit in a circle for use by kids, with Internet filters blocking access to inappropriate material.

“Adults can’t use those,” said Bette Ammon, library director.

Upstairs, kiosks offering work stations with Internet filters for adults are usually busy; a computer lab with unfiltered computers also draws patrons. “They’re clearly marked, and people can choose,” Ammon said. “It appears to be working really well.”

But the Coeur d’Alene library, like every other library in the state, will have to change its system between now and October, under a new law enacted by the Idaho Legislature this year.

Although the new law is a scaled-back version of the original proposal – which would have required libraries to filter Internet access for everyone – it’s still a concern to some library officials.

Currently, every library in Idaho handles the issue its own way, with some choosing to install filters on all their Internet-accessible computers, others choosing to filter just some, and some leaving the choice to parents and adult library patrons.

That local control works well, Ammons and others say, noting that Idaho libraries don’t get any state funding. Libraries are supported by local property taxes and governed by local boards.

Under the new law, Internet use by children must be filtered.

“We’ll have to have some kind of sign-in or indicator, if you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to use those unfiltered computers,” Ammon said. “This is something that my library board will have to deal with within the next few months.”

She added that the Coeur d’Alene library views the new law as “an unfunded mandate” because “it was the state Legislature requiring us to purchase filters, but not providing any money for that.” Free filtering software is available, she said, but it’s “really clunky” when used over networks.

Seventeen other states have enacted legislation on library Internet access, but only a handful of those require filtering. Most require libraries to have policies and procedures regarding access to objectionable or obscene material. Utah’s library filtering law makes filtering a precondition for state funding. No such laws apply in Washington.

Becca Stroebel, a reference librarian at the Boise Public Library and legislative co-chair for the Idaho Library Association, said: “The problem that I see with it is that filters aren’t perfect, and there will still be issues with access to inappropriate images even on filtered computers. I think the best answer of all is to have local libraries in control of their Internet policies and police their own Internet access.”

But when an eastern Idaho group called Citizens for Decency proposed legislation to require filters to block all objectionable Internet material at libraries – by anyone – Idaho lawmakers snapped to attention. The bill passed 63-7 in the Idaho House, with support from all but two of North Idaho’s representatives. Coeur d’Alene GOP Reps. Marge Chadderdon and Kathy Sims co-sponsored the bill.

During the House debate, Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, declared, “The sewers have been opened and pornography has flooded the entire country.” The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “My personal research has convinced me that pornography poses one of the greatest destructive forces … on the youth.”

The Idaho Library Association called the original bill unworkable and objectionable on First Amendment grounds, but sponsors refused to work with them on a compromise – until the bill hit the Senate. There, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, brought the sides together and a compromise was negotiated, imposing the filtering requirement on kids but not adults.

“I’m always leery of restricting access to information, and in my opinion, the original bill was too restrictive,” said Goedde, who was named Legislator of the Year by the Idaho Library Association. “I thought the amendment was a good compromise, and it appears to be something that all parties can live with.”

Ammon, the Coeur d’Alene library director, called the compromise bill “an improvement over the original bill, because it’s ridiculous to hold adult use of materials to the same standard as children.”

But she noted that complaints about library patrons’ Internet use are rare even though the library gets a thousand visitors a day.

“We have a pretty broad policy here about disturbing behavior,” she said. “If somebody’s bothering somebody because they’re talking too loud on their cellphone, because they took off their shoes and their feet stink, if somebody complains to us, we deal with it. So we would be able to deal with any kind of complaint about Internet access the same way.”


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