By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County grand jury again has addressed what it sees as problems of access to pornography in public libraries, calling for filters to be installed on computers in the children’s section while their effectiveness is gauged.
Pornography filters are “still an important issue that needs to be dealt with. It is a fact that minors may be exposed to pornographic images of a shocking and offensive nature,” the grand jury wrote in the report, released Wednesday afternoon.
The library’s reluctance, however, has been that filters are not 100 percent effective, and some offensive material will still get through while legitimate material is blocked.
“Someone who has breast cancer who wants to research treatment can’t get it because the filter prevents it, and it may not filter out other things that may be offensive,” said Melissa Kelley, vice chairwoman of the Sonoma County Library Commission.
There are also First Amendment issues, said Margaret Lynch, commission chairwoman.
“We do have people who are actively reviewing how we can do this. It is an issue of the American Library Association, we are not the only library to deal with it,” Lynch said. “It is trying to strike that balance.”
The grand jury last year recommended the Central Library move the public access computers to a side wall and install pornography filters.
This year’s grand jury also believes that the filters may be more effective than the library commission believes, filtering 85 percent of the objectional material and blocking 15 percent of the legitimate material.
“With filters installed, any adult may, by simply asking a librarian, turn off the filters. No First Amendment rights are infringed upon and our children have been afforded a safer Library experience,” the grand jury wrote.
Rick Rascoe, a grand jury member who oversaw the library investigation, said the Central Library was singled out because that is where the complaints have been.
It is also the Central Library staff that decided against the filters, said Cal Kimes, grand jury foreman.
Instead of putting filters on all computers, as previous grand juries have done, the 2010 grand jury recommends installing the filters on the computers in the children’s section, appointing a committee to research the effectiveness and then reporting back to next year’s grand jury.
“It is a big change and we thought it was prudent that we start small, put it on the children’s department computers first to see if they can handle it,” Rascoe said.
Kelley said one of the steps the Central Library has taken is the use of privacy screens that can placed over the computer monitor to shield the view of people walking by.
“If there is problem, we have privacy screens and the librarians have the authority to ask them to use these screens,” said Melissa Kelley, vice chairwoman of the commission. “Generally when we call it to the person’s attention that it is not appropriate, for the most part they choose to stop the activity.”
Kelley said that complaints have dropped sharply since the new policy took effect.
She also said that there has not been a complaint regarding the computers in the children’s section of the library.
“I consider the Central Library my home library, I am there a lot,” Kelley said. “I am sure it would have been brought to my attention.”
Lynch said the grand jury’s recommendations will be discussed at the library commission’s July 12 meeting.
“This has come up every year; it is not an easy thing to deal with,” Lynch said. “There is a persistent dissatisfaction. It is not the library is cavalier, but there are some limitations on what we can do.”