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Jewish World Review March 21, 2000/ 14 Adar II, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports



It's common sense to restrict
Internet usage in libraries --
TED'S JAW DROPPED perceptibly as I described how easily he could find pornography on the Internet. It's as simple as pushing a button, I said.

No, it couldn't be that easy, he said.

It's that easy.

Ted is brand new to the Internet. He just bought his first computer and can't wait to get on-line. He's also the father of a 7-year-old daughter who probably knows more about computers -- and pornography -- than her ancient 35-year-old dad.

If she's been to some of our nation's public libraries, she might have seen plenty. After all, children on their way to pull Goodnight Moon off the shelf can glimpse everything from bestiality to torture just by walking past a terminal where porn is being viewed. And there's no limit to the deviance young Internet surfers can encounter on a public computer.

Hel-lo Ted and all you other clueless parents out there: nap's over. The Internet is happening; pornography is ubiquitous; no one is watching your children.

A new study released this week by the Family Research Council, ‘‘Dangerous Access, 2000 Edition: Uncovering Internet Pornography in America's Libraries,'' says that the American Library Association (ALA) is ignoring a ‘‘sea of evidence'' that ‘‘Internet pornography and related sex crimes are a serious problem in America's libraries.''

The study used the Freedom of Information Act to get library reports of Internet traffic. With only 29 percent of libraries responding, researchers found 2,000 incidents of patrons, many of them children, accessing pornography in America's public libraries.

Considering the number of people using libraries, 2,000 doesn't seem like a ‘‘sea,'' or even a large lake, unless your child happens to be one of those swimming in the slime. But even 10 million ‘‘hits'' wouldn't likely change the ALA's position against mandated filtering. The onus, says the ALA, is on parents. Besides, they add, filters are ineffective in that they block legitimate research as well as pornography.

The ALA's favorite example is breast cancer. A typical filtering system would block access to any site containing the word ‘‘breast,'' thus thwarting important information about breast cancer or, say, breast-feeding.

More important, the ALA argues that blocking pornography constitutes censorship and interferes with intellectual freedom. They make their case on the ALA Web site (, citing historical incidents of people being ‘‘burned at the stake, forced to drink poison, crucified, ostracized and vilified'' for what they wrote and believed.

I'm no fan of burning people at the stake, except on the occasional Tuesday, but a little vilification would be welcome. It's ironic that parents who have bothered to distract their children from television to cultivate an interest in books ultimately have less to worry about from the tube than they do from the public library.

The ALA's attitude, meanwhile, is tough luck. As explained on their Web site: ‘‘Parents who believe that the current state of society and communications make it difficult to shield their children must nevertheless find a way to cope with what they see as that reality within the context of their own family.''

Parents trying to cope have pushed for reasonable compromises, such as segregating filtered and unfiltered computers.

Some libraries have been more cooperative than others. Almost all have policies about Internet use, whether requiring a parental signature for children's use or limiting on-line time. But until we find the guts and sense to define obscenity, none are sufficient protection absent a parent or adult to monitor children on the Internet.

The common sense answer, meantime, is to restrict children under 18 to certain, filtered computers in a protected area of the library. If the kid is researching breast cancer for a school project and can't find the link, well, guess what. Librarians are there to help. Aren't they?

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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