Libraries to filter Internet content

System will block access to pornography, other questionable material

Anne Arundel

December 02, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

In an effort to keep library patrons from viewing pornography and other potentially offensive content on Internet sites, the Anne Arundel County Library board of trustees has approved the installation of filters on all library computers.

The board's decision last week follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the summer allowing Congress to tie some funding to whether a library system has filters on its computers restricting access to pornography.

The Anne Arundel County library system initially decided this year not to use filters because library officials worried about restricting free speech, but the trustees revisited that decision after the Supreme Court's ruling.

"We were always very concerned about the First Amendment rights, and the court cleared the way for us to filter without infringing on the First Amendment," said library spokeswoman Laurie L. Hayes.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision lets the Anne Arundel County library system apply the same guidelines to the Internet as it does to its collections, said library board President Doris Jackson.

"We have never bought pornographic books as a library system, so we decided to continue that policy to the Internet," she said.

Hayes said that although the library doesn't depend on the federal government for much of its funding, the library was concerned about how to handle access to sites that may be illegal or inappropriate for public viewing.

Over a 13-month period between 2002 and this year, the county system recorded 54 complaints about inappropriate Internet use that were serious enough to require documentation.

The new filtering system, called the Smart Access Manager System, will cost the library about $87,000 to install in its 15 branches. The funding will come from money slated for library computer upgrades and from a $22,000 grant from the state Department of Education.

Details on how to unlock legitimate sites that have been mistakenly blocked are pending, as are additional potential restrictions based on a client's age. The library system is considering at least two levels of filters -- one for adults and one for minors -- but hasn't determined how the second level will work.

Many local libraries, including the Carroll and Harford County systems, were using the filters prior to the Supreme Court ruling. Jackson said the library's recent decision puts it in step with the current law, and she is grateful the highest court clarified guidelines for libraries.

But, she said, she doesn't think this is the last time the library will be discussing filters.

"You know it's going to change again," said Jackson, a retired media specialist. "Technology is moving ahead faster than it can be accommodated."

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