ALIA has released results of a 2005 survey of internet access in Australian public libraries.
The survey covered over 700 public libraries, comprising 41% of such facilites across Australia. Key points for me were:
- over 77,000 people accessed the internet in surveyed public libraries each week in 2005
- 80% monitored and supervised internet in a variety of ways.
There was much more so you should check it out.
With ongoing media stories, both here and overseas, about children accessing inappropriate material on public library PCs, I found the following results from the survey to be of interest:
- 50% of libraries reported no complaints abut internet content
- of the 50% who had, the vast majority had received five or less complaints in thepast 12 months
- 30% used filtering software
- those who used filtering software had a corresponding increase in complaints, mainly about filters blocking legitimate sites
- 71% of survey libraries required parental consent for children to use the internet – some also required a parent to be present with the child using the internet
My particular interest in this is that I am opposed to filtering of public library internet PCs and these results seem to bear out that it causes more problems than it solves.
I am not saying that inappropriate content on the internet is not a concern. It is a concern for any parent and our library has had its share of complaints and media focus on this issue. On the otherhand, we also get our share of complaints about our print materials. Our library computers do not have filtering – a stance supported by our library board and by ALIA in its Statement on Online Content Regulation.
We do however, have policies in place to regulate internet use by children. To use a library internet PC requires a library membership card. One condition of junior membership that parents sign, is that the parent takes responsibility for materials accessed by their child, whether print, electronic etc.
Our Internet conditions of use are available at all our PCs, in our brochures and online. One condition of Internet use is that children of primary school age be accompanied by an adult when using the Internet.
It is also a condition of use that inappropriate material is not accessed on library PCs. A breach of this condition in particular, whether caught by staff or reported by a library user, is dealt with quickly and definitively. The offender is immediately removed from the PC and barred for a month. If after this ban they are again caught, they incur another ban, this time for up to 6 months. Ban details are recorded on their membership record. Further offences can result in a lifetime ban. At this time, I know of no-one having been banned more than twice, so in our case it seems to be working.
I should note that we do not have any PCs in children’s areas, they are all in a common area, available to all library users. I don’t know if I would encourage either this physical separation of machines into limited access areas, or whether in that instance I would consider filtering appropriate.
I say this for a few reasons. As is well known, filtering blocks good sites as well as bad. This may not be such an issue in children’s areas, but it is still a concern. What is relevant, is that filtering still lets inappropriate content through, as evidenced by the increased complaints in the Internet survey above. It also gives the parents an opt out clause. There is the mistaken impression out there, that filtering solves the issue of inappropriate content, therefore parents do not need concern themselves with their children’s activities on filtered computers. Not only that, but children are quite adept at bypassing web filters as evidenced recently in the CNET article “Kids outsmart Web filters” (not that it was any surprise).
I am a parent of 2 young children, with my daughter in her 2nd year of school just starting to use the internet. It is my responsiblity to ensure she learns what is inappropriate for her and knows how to react when she comes across it. Its not a perfect system and I will make mistakes and she will ignore my directives at times, but we will get there.
I know the Internet can be a dangerous place, which is why the PC that she and her younger brother have at home is in an open area near our kitchen, with the screen and its content easily visible from a distance. It’s my responsibility to monitor their access and therefore the PC is set up so I can.
My responsibility as a librarian is to provide safe and open access to all, whilst being concerned with the affect on others. The way I and others in my service help children both in the library and using the internet from home to avoid such content is to provide access to reputable websites relevant to their information and recreation needs. We do this and will be doing more as we move to a new improved LMS in the next 12 months.
Its a tough situation. I am anti-filtering and will remain so until filters can ban the inappropriate content, whilst still allowing much needed medical and other appropriate information through. It must also be able to stymie the majority of children’s attempts to bypass it. Only at that time can I see myself reconsidering this standpoint and I can’t see that happening for quite some time.