Monday, May 14, 2007

Library group looks to pull plug on Internet for a day

Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007

Libraries across Illinois are being urged by an industry association to shut off free Internet access Monday to protest a proposed state law.

At issue is the Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act. The proposal was passed by a 63-51 vote in the Illinois House of Representatives last week and has been referred to the Senate’s Rules Committee.

Under the act, every library would need filters on public computers to prevent child pornography and other obscene images from appearing. Libraries would have to annually certify compliance or risk losing state grants.

Republican state Rep. Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg is among those who voted in favor of the act. He said Internet filters have worked well for more than 10 years at the Schaumburg Township District Library, the state’s second largest.

“I think most people object to paying for pornography for sexual predators,” he said.

But the Illinois Library Association is opposed to the proposed law. The organization’s executive director, Robert P. Doyle, wants all state libraries to disconnect Internet access Monday to demonstrate solidarity against the filtering plan.

Doyle suggests libraries post signs explaining why there is no Internet availability.

Libraries also should inform patrons the legislation would require that a companion older than 21 accompany a minor who seeks unfiltered computer use for homework purposes, Doyle said.

An adult would be allowed to ask a librarian for unfiltered computer access for legitimate research or other lawful purposes.

It would cost libraries at least $10,000 for filtering software, plus $3,000 for annual maintenance, according to Doyle.

He said the filters provide a false sense of security and block important information.

Moreover, a majority of libraries already have policies prohibiting the viewing of pornography on computers, according to the association.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Des Plaines, said she voted against the proposal because librarians have the ability to call police if someone is examining inappropriate material on the Internet. She added that one community standard cannot be applied across a state as large as Illinois.

“This really should be for the local libraries to consider,” Nekritz said.

Kristy Mangel, member services coordinator at the Illinois Library Association, said the Internet blackout effort was hastily arranged, so it’s difficult to project the participation level for Monday.

Mangel said the number of libraries that turn off the Internet won’t matter.

“I think a success would be having libraries and library issues more visible on Monday than they are the other 364 days of the year,” she said.

State lawmakers rejected a similar attempt at an Internet filtering requirement for public libraries in 2005.

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