aclu decries approval of library filters

new policy - the district's board must first define what it considers pornography
wednesday, february 15, 2006
holley gilbert
the oregonian

vancouver -- fort vancouver regional library district board members may have violated their code of ethics when they voted this week to put filters on all library computers, the clark county american civil liberties union chapter president said tuesday.

craig dewey said mandated filtering for adults was a conflict of interest with a code that, as listed on the district's web site, says board members will "resist all efforts by groups or individuals to censor library materials."

a second code says the board will "work to ensure that the public has equal access to information, both as a constitutional right and as the best way to sustain a democratic way of life."

the library board voted monday to tighten its internet filtering practices beyond what the federal children's internet protection act requires. the policy had allowed only users 17 and older access to unfiltered computers. under the new policy, librarians will be able to unlock a legitimate site that was wrongly blocked.

but dewey criticized the board's 4-3 vote.

"we prefer to see the library not playing a parental role or decide for parents what their children see and don't see," he said.

the board erred in not including a definition of pornography in its filtering policy nor clarifying whether it would apply to just pictures or to both words and pictures, he said.

bruce ziegman, the district's executive director, said the board will have to review its policies, which have not been examined in years, to see whether conflicts exist that should be resolved.

"there may be inconsistencies there," he said.

dewey, who heads the 700-member local aclu chapter, said the group's steering committee would discuss the board's decision during its feb. 26 meeting. any legal action the organization could take would be done through the seattle aclu office, he said.

the district re-examined its internet filtering policy because of public feedback after the narrow november defeat of a $44 million bond measure that would have paid for improvements at three vancouver branches. the bond fell 0.6 percent short of the required 60 percent supermajority needed for approval.

district officials solicited comments from 450 "no" voters. of those, 42 percent said they did not support the bond because it would have raised taxes, and 28 percent rejected the bond because the district did not have a stricter internet filtering policy.

margaret tweet, a camas resident who for years has advocated for greater filtering to combat access to pornography in libraries, said the board's decision was "terrific."

"we're not the only ones doing this," tweet said. "we're taking the steps that other libraries with problems have taken successfully in the past."

the district's libraries "will be more comfortable for everybody to use," she said. "i think there will be more computers available for legitimate research and shorter waiting lines. and we'll probably pass a bond.

"people will feel better that the board is more responsive to community standards."

ziegman said the issue has been "excruciatingly difficult" for him.

"i'm a professional librarian against censorship, and censorship of any kind flies in the face of core values i believe in," he said.

"on the other hand, it's hard for me to say a library is required to purvey thousands of web sites designed purely for sexual arousal," he said. "no solution makes me happy."

the board must, however, draw up definitions about what sites will be blocked.

"there has to be some common sense in this," ziegman said.


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