Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District
Published May 16, 2007
Among the bills passed by the Illinois House and sent to the Senate is a proposal that promises to create more mischief than good. Innocently named the Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act, House Bill 1727 would force all public libraries and school libraries to install filters on all public access computers to prevent access to child pornography or other obscene depictions.
There is no question that child pornography is disgusting and child pornographers should be held accountable before the law for their sick and criminal behavior. The reality of HB-1727 is that it doesn't attack the problem.
The proposal would better be called the Public Librarians and School Librarians Don't Care About Children and We Gotta Straighten Them Out bill. It assumes that librarians are doing nothing about the problem or are oblivious to it.
That simply is not true.
Public and school librarians are very aware of the dangers posed by Internet access, in addition to the benefits, and have done something about it.
The Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District, for instance, has a rule that no child in the children's area can use a computer without supervision of a librarian or other responsible adult.
In the adult area, all computer screens face the librarian's desk so he or she can monitor them and take any action required.
Other libraries have similar policies.
In addition, some public libraries are adding filtering software -- without legislative mandate.
There is absolutely no evidence that local control is failing.
The bill would intrude unnecessarily into local communities, creating a problem where none has been shown to exist.
The bill also creates other problems.
- It proposes a technological solution that doesn't always work. Any filtering software will block Web sites that are not pornographic, and no filtering software can totally outwit the creativity of pornographers. Thus the librarians who depend on filters rather than personal supervision can still be found guilty under this bill.
- It would be expensive for school libraries and public libraries, which have better ways to spend taxpayer money to help children. The Illinois Library Association estimates a typical network installation would cost $10,000 plus $3,000 a year. The bill imposes fines of $100 a day for any offense, which will further squeeze public library and school budgets that are already stretched.
Legislators who truly want to protect and support children have many options:
- Consider House Bill 660 and Senate Bill 1472, which mandate schools to teach Internet safety to students. Fund the program if adopted.
- Provide funding to distribute the pamphlet "The Internet & Our Children" to libraries and schools. The publication, from the Illinois Library Association, is an excellent teaching tool.