Librarians applauded for Internet vigilance |

Librarians applauded for Internet vigilance

Some time back, I wrote an editorial calling on the American Library Association (ALA) and the California Library Association (CLA) to end their nonsensical opposition to any form of limits on children’s access to pornography in libraries.

I was greatly encouraged by the response from constituents across the First District. Many were as outraged as I was when I first learned that both our state and national library associations refuse to accept or implement reasonable restrictions on pornography access for minors. Many people contacted my office, vowing to become involved in both local and statewide efforts to protect our children.

What impressed me even more was the response of many librarians who let me know that they – in defiance of ALA policy – were doing the best they could to prevent their libraries from becoming places where children could go to access pornography.

In many First District libraries, computer terminals have been placed in open, easily-viewable locations so librarians can unobtrusively keep an eye on young Internet users. In other cases, librarians have instituted a system requiring children to obtain their parents’ permission before using the Internet at libraries. I have even heard of libraries sending home notes to parents when their children are caught viewing inappropriate material.

This is civic responsibility at its best: Local librarians, responding to the concerns of parents, acting with a strong sense of responsibility and decency. I applaud the librarians across the First District who have taken this stand. I encourage parents and concerned citizens to visit their local libraries and, seeing the steps that have been taken, thank those responsible.

Sadly, parts of the state are not like the First District. Libraries such as the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sonoma County public libraries continue to allow children unfettered access to whatever they can discover – or happen to stumble upon – on the Internet, from hard-core porn and pedophile web sites to child pornography.

A recently-released study of library complaint records and media reports discovered more than 500 documented cases of pornography abuse in public libraries. Two hundred and forty-five of these incidents involved children at an average age of 12 years old, many of whom were viewing child pornography, which is considered federal contraband even for adults. As glaring as this problem is, though, adequate solutions are not easily found. Legitimate concerns for freedom of access must be carefully balanced with equally legitimate concerns for the minds and character of our children.

As we weigh these often conflicting priorities, however, there should be no doubt where we must place the primary responsibility for a child’s well-being and guidance: With that child’s parents.

The role of local and state policy-makers in such matters is to enable and support mothers and fathers in their exceedingly challenging yet all-important role as parents.

With such a goal in mind, I have introduced Senate Bill 1617. If approved, this bill will allow local libraries flexibility in their efforts to protect our children, while at the same time setting down a “minimum requirement” for parental involvement.

Minors will be required to obtain written permission from a parent or guardian before a library can grant them total Internet access. Those parents who do not feel entirely comfortable with their child touring the Internet without any limitations will have the added alternative of authorizing filtered Internet access only. (Libraries that do not currently offer the option of filters will be provided filtering software free of charge from software companies.)

The process of reviewing and signing a permission slip will not only help parents share in their child’s decisions, but will also make parents (who did not grow up in the Internet Age) more aware of the dangers their children may face on the Internet. Once parents are “in the loop,” they will be able to talk through important issues with their children and encourage them to make wise choices.

Of course, a bill like SB 1617 will not cause all library Internet problems to disappear overnight. Even parents who prefer filtered Internet access should be aware – as will be explained on the permission form – that filters, like all technology, are helpful, but not without imperfections.

A balanced approach like SB 1617, however, does guarantee that parents can be involved in their children’s lives and choices. Libraries will be free to adopt higher standards if they wish, but any library that receives your and my tax dollars will at least maintain a minimum level of parental involvement.

Librarians, teachers, public officials and many others all have a role in influencing children. Let’s make sure, though, that the biggest decisions of upbringing and guidance rest first and foremost upon parents, where they belong.

Tim Leslie is senator of California’s 1st Senate District.

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