Would it matter to you if your public library decides that some content can’t be viewed on computers within the library?
The Timberland Regional Library District’s Board of Trustees is considering changing its Internet filtering policy and at least two Lewis County board members are pushing for the district to filter the content on every public computer in all of the libraries. The board has seven trustees and each county in the system — Grays Harbor, Pacific, Lewis, Mason and Thurston — are represented on the board. They are appointed by the county commissioners of the five-county region.
The discussion begs all sorts of questions, admits Corby Varness, the Grays Harbor appointee.
“I’m really not sure how I feel about this yet,” Varness said. “It’s really a complicated issue. The library is in the business of disseminating information.”
But, if you have filters and someone wants to research breast cancer, what websites would be left out? Then again, without filters, it’s much easier to look at pornography on the public computer.
As it is now, most Timberland public libraries allow adult users to choose between using a filtered option or an unfiltered option. Children 17 and younger are required to use the filtered option. Computers that aren’t filtered have a recessed screen as though you are looking through a window on a table to allow a bit more privacy for the users.
The discussions are still in the early phases, but members have talked about the subject over the past few months in policy committee meetings and two public board meetings. And the subject should come up again when the Board meets later this month in Westport.
RULING CLEARS THE WAY
In April, an Eastern Washington Federal District Court ruled in favor of the North Central Regional Library that filtering library computers didn’t violate any laws. The decision followed a state Supreme Court ruling from 2010 that also gave libraries permission to move forward on Internet filtering. The ACLU of Seattle had sued the Eastern Washington library district, demanding the filters be removed. The library says it was only trying to filter out pornography and gambling websites.
The ACLU argued that the library was restricting computer access to an adult student trying to access computers for a class assignment and a professional photographer from accessing art galleries online.
“Libraries should not limit the opportunity of adults to view research articles and other lawful materials,” ACLU of Washington legal director Sarah Dunne said in a statement before oral arguments began last fall.
But with firm court decisions in place, Timberland Board of Trustees members Edna Fund and John Braun, both of Centralia, say the library district ought to move forward on filtering every computer in the district.
Braun led the discussion at the board’s meeting last week in Ilwaco, noting that the discussion should be done internally among board members, instead of reaching out for public input.
“I think that this is an issue we need to deal with now,” Braun told his fellow board members. “I don’t think it needs to be a broad public discussion. I don’t think this is a case where we have to schedule forums across the district because that would encourage people from each part of the spectrum to fight about it. While if we just talk about it at our public meetings, I don’t think we’d get that many comments. …
“I’m in favor of filtering the whole thing,” he added. “It’s just a pragmatic decision. I don’t think there’s any upside. There’s such a small group of folks that want unfiltered Internet that the upside is virtually non-existent for having it. And the downside is much larger.”
The options the library board has at this point are to simply to do nothing, to establish a policy allowing libraries in individual communities to petition to become fully filtered or to have a broad policy having all computers in the library district filtered.
Fund said on Tuesday that she’s heard repeatedly from her community that they want to filter library computers. She cites public forums done about eight years ago on the subject and says those feelings really haven’t gone away.
Fund said there have been documented incidents of pornography being viewed in public libraries, forcing libraries to move computers away from the children’s section to the adult section.
“We were waiting for the court case to finish before bringing this up again,” Fund said. “I’m for a consistent policy across the entire district. … It’s not a dead issue in my particular area.”
Braun added that he does see the attraction to having each library decide themselves, “but on a practical matter, that would be very hard to implement.”
Bob Hall, who represents Pacific County on the board, says he’s in favor of just keeping everything the way it is.
“Management is currently dealing with this if there’s an issue,” Hall said during last week’s board meeting. “There’s an absence of any kind of demand for a change that is going on. Some staff members are concerned if we went to all filters. If we went to a public debate on the issue, we’ll have winners and losers. This is a basic issue that nobody seems concerned about right now. … Yes, we could do something but why would we want to stir up this hornet’s nest?”
The fact is library patrons could be using a completely filtered Internet and not even know it.
Without much fanfare, the Timberland public library in Elma did away with all of their unfiltered Internet stations roughly a year ago, Timberland spokesman Jeff Kleingartner said on Wednesday.
Kleingartner said there was no controversial porn incident or anything like that, which led to the removal of the computers. Rather, he said, there was just an increased demand from children to use more computers. Children are only allowed to use the unfiltered computers, he said.
Elma Library Manager David Seckman said there have been no complaints since the change-over, and referred other comments to Kleingartner.
In fact, Kleingartner said more and more Timberland libraries have been increasing the number of filtered computers over the years and decreasing the allotment of unfiltered computers, based on demand.
He said he wasn’t aware of any problems patrons may have accessing information they want.
Similarly, the Salkum library in Lewis County also had all of its unfiltered computers removed, Kleingartner said.
Plus, he pointed out, all of the Wi-Fi access given at the libraries have built-in filters installed, even when patrons use their own lap tops.
Board chairman Emmett O’Connell, the Thurston County appointee, says he’s in favor of a piece-meal approach, allowing libraries in their own communities to petition to go completely filtered. O’Connell points out that Elma and Salkum went completely filtered at the direction of the previous executive director, when a policy should be in place making that a board decision.
“Right now, our policy doesn’t reflect that’s even possible,” O’Connell said on Tuesday. “It’s disjointed. If it was just my say so, I would recraft the policy to stay with the status quo but more clearly spell out intentions.”
Another issue to talk about is what to do about filtering computers in Timberland libraries that could end up in public schools. One such co-operative library is proposed for Oakville and other similar proposals have been brought up over the years.
“This is an issue that could be coming up for us very soon,” O’Connell said.
The Board of Trustees has directed Acting Executive director Gwen Culp to seek input from Timberland Library staff and bring the survey results back for their next Board of Trustees meeting. The next public meeting is 1 p.m., Aug. 22 at the Westport library. The board does have a public comment period.