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Thursday

April 2014

24

Explicit image seen at Oconomowoc library raises questions

We bring our children to the library for story times, Lego clubs, therapy dogs, movie nights and reading challenges. But not to view explicit materials.

Last week, however, there was an incident at Oconomowoc Public Library where a father and his daughter passed by a computer, where another man was viewing explicit material involving nudity.

A librarian asked the man to leave.

"As a parent myself, I know how disturbing this is," said Oconomowoc Library Director Ray McKenna.

Since then, the father has submitted a public complaint, and Alderman Rich Allen has contacted the Oconomowoc Public Library.

"We take this situation very seriously. What we have, we think, has worked well so far, but that's not to say it isn't time to review it," McKenna said.

Currently, the Oconomowoc library has five computer terminals, which are near the reference librarian. There are no filters on their browsers, but users do have to agree to a two- to three-page user agreement.

Similarly, only adults can sign into a computer. Children younger than 18 must have a parent log in for them.

"We monitor that visually, and if people are on what we call an inappropriate website, we tell them to stop what they're doing or leave," McKenna said.

McKenna said that warnings usually work, but if they don't the viewer is asked to leave. If they return and continue to look at inappropriate materials, their library privileges can be revoked for a period of time or they could be permanently banned. McKenna said this has only happened once.

"This is our first public complaint in 12 years," he explained.

Regardless, McKenna is in what he calls a fact-finding phase. He's seeking all of the involved parties for specific information around the incident.

He's contacted other libraries to learn what they're doing, something he describes as a mixed bag. Some have filters and some don't. Others have filters, but not on their wireless networks. Some have privacy screens around the terminal. Some take a philosophical point of view and avoid limiting access to information.

"What I have heard about it, and the question that we keep asking, is does a filter prevent a legitimate search for someone's legitimate research needs?" McKenna said.

The Pewaukee Public Library, for example, has had a filter since 2005. Pewaukee Library Director Jennie Stoltz explained that because they have filters, children younger than 18 can access the computers more easily. When parents opt out of permission slips, they are no longer needed to sign on when their children want to use the Internet for homework.

"No filter is perfect," Stoltz said, "and some libraries will choose not to filter because it may block, say, someone who is requesting information about breast cancer."

Christine Cramer at the Delafield Public Library, which uses the same Sonic Wall filter as Pewaukee, explained that some of the blocks can be overridden by a librarian on an individual basis for legitimate needs. Cramer is also aware of filter loopholes, though, and said that patrons can still find ways to view inappropriate content. "As a library, we don't want to be known as a place where people come in and look at porn or a place that you don't want to take your kids … As a parent, I don't want to be known for that. So we're taking it very seriously," McKenna said.

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