A rash of challenges to unexpurgated Internet service at public libraries is sweeping the nation, resulting in the installation of filtering software in several libraries and pledges from others to monitor patrons' Web access. But one month after Boston Mayor Tom Menino made national headlines for ordering the public library and other city departments to purchase blocking software, new library President Bernard A. Margolis is saying, "We're not buying it."
Speaking with American Libraries March 10, his first day on the job, Margolis explained that while he personally shares "the mayor's values," he has misgivings about the efficacy of CyberPatrol, the software Menino specified. Margolis said he would "review the issues and put them in context" for city officials, emphasizing that he is equally concerned with "making sure libraries are safe for children, celebrating parental responsibility, and respecting the First Amendment."
In the interim, Margolis said BPL staff continue to "have heightened awareness in response to what I call the forbidden-fruit theory" that more youngsters would try to access unsavory sites they had heard about through media coverage.
The mayor's February 12 order came days after a parent told her city councilor that her son had accessed sexually explicit materials at the library's Adams Street branch.
Wildfire across the wires
"When I heard about the mayor of Boston's directive, the first thing I said is, 'It's going to go across this country like wildfire,'" Judith Krug, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told AL. Indeed, the BPL controversy has by no means been an isolated incident. Other recent cyber-crises include:
* An announcement by Medina County and Wayne County, Ohio, library officials, that staffers will ask patrons to exit offensive Web sites (AL, Mar., p. 17), followed March 10 by the ACLU asking Medina County to rescind its policy.
* The addition of blocking software to children's-area workstations in the Woodinville and Bothell branches of the King County (Wash.) Library System and all public-access terminals at Austin (Tex.) Public Library.
* State bills in Minnesota ordering the education department to "purchase, develop, or contract for the development" of pornography-blocking software for public schools; in California to require school districts to establish acceptable-use policies; and in Ohio to instruct the Ohio Public Library Information Network to advise localities to restrict objectionable Internet sites. …