Libraries Becoming Battlefield over Internet Pornography

By Gabriel, Dan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

Libraries Becoming Battlefield over Internet Pornography


Gabriel, Dan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A cultural war is raging inside America's libraries.

Conservative groups warn that unrestricted access to Internet indecency in the nation's public schools and libraries threatens to create virtual sanctuaries of smut across the land.

"There is no constitutional right to view this kind of obscenity in public places like our towns' libraries," says Janet LaRue, senior legal studies director at the Family Research Council (FRC).

But the American Library Association says patrons have a right to view pornographic material.

"Protecting children from Internet porn would be best accomplished at the local level, and not through federal regulation," says ALA spokeswoman Emily Sheketoff.

At issue are incidents like those chronicled in a recent study commissioned by the FRC, titled "Dangerous Access."

The report details graphic incidents in cities such as Vancouver, Wash., where the staff of the city's public library has had to clean semen off the restroom walls after the Internet "research" sessions of certain library patrons.

Or when police were summoned to a public library in Phoenix after a 4-year-old boy was sexually propositioned in the bathroom by a 13-year old after the teen admittedly engaged in an on-line chat with pedophiles.

"I have seen cases where pedophiles on the Internet use the library to talk with children and eventually lure them to have a face-to-face meeting," says Julie Posey, director of the watchdog group PedoWatch. "These children are then molested, their photos taken and [the children] further exploited when he sends the child's pictures to masses on the Internet."

David Burt, the former Lake Oswego, Ore., librarian who authored the report, sent Freedom of Information Act requests to nearly every public library system in America and worked with FRC staffers to gather the data.

Among the 27 percent of libraries that responded to the requests, Mr. Burt was able to document 2,062 reported incidents over the previous year involving the viewing of Internet porn in libraries.

These included five cases of attempted molestation, 106 cases of adults exposing children to pornography and 472 cases of children accessing porn.

The total number of incidents each year was extrapolated to be between 400,000 and 2 million per year nationwide, says Mr. Burt, who has since left his library post to work at a software-filtering company.

Not only do some libraries allow conditions that lead to this illegal activity, but they actually inform library staff they must tolerate it, Mr. Burt says. He cites an incident at a public library in Sonoma, Calif., where a staff librarian complained to his supervisor about three men on his shift who downloaded child porn on library computers.

The supervisor responded there was "nothing we can do about it."

"The best thing for staff is to ignore it," he was told.

"The anonymous environment of the public library offers the ideal place to access this sea of pornography," says Mr. Burt.

"Children who want to avoid supervised access to the Internet at home and school, transients without any other access to Internet pornography, pedophiles wishing to download illegal child pornography and sexual perpetrators wishing to expose others to pornography would all be attracted to a public library to obtain free access to the Internet," says Mr. Burt.

With an estimated 11 million children having access to the Internet and more than half of the nation's classrooms connected to the World Wide Web, 82 percent of parents across the nation are concerned their children will access unsuitable material on the Net, according to the FRC.

Fifty-eight percent of parents without Web access at home say they rely upon schools and libraries to provide safe Internet access, says the FRC. …

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