By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — While it is not illegal to view adult pornography on the Colfax Public Library’s computers, the activity could be offensive to other library patrons and inappropriate if children are in the library.
To address the issue, the Colfax Public Library Board adopted an Internet use policy at the January 16 meeting.
Discussion of adopting a policy began at the November meeting when Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, director of the Colfax Public Library, reported a library patron had been viewing pornography on one of the public computers but accidentally did not have the ear phones plugged in all the way and there were children present in the library.
Although library staff may not necessarily feel comfortable with a patron viewing pornography at a public library where children could be present, pornography is a protected freedom of expression preserved by the United States Constitution.
At the November meeting, library board members also discussed the possibility of installing Internet filters.
Library board members quickly concluded Internet filters would not work very well since the filters have a tendency to flag even innocent search terms and would impede the ability of library patrons to search the Internet.
The Eau Claire public library is the only library in the area using any kind of Internet filter, and that’s only in the children’s section of the library.
At the January 16 meeting, Bragg-Hurlburt reported she is working on a display page for the home page of the library’s public computers to list the rules for using the Internet.
Putting the rules on the home page will place them in front of patrons when they use one of the library’s computers, she said.
A mirror has also been installed on the south wall to allow library staff to monitor images on the computers facing away from the circulation desk.
The computer home page rules and the mirror were both ideas approved by the library board at the November meeting.
The mirror works quite well, Bragg-Hurlburt said.
The reflection is small enough so library staff cannot see any details of what is displayed on the computer screens but large enough for library staff to be able to tell if inappropriate web pages are on display, she said.
The draft Internet policy had been sent to the village’s attorney, Anders Helquist of Weld Riley, for review and suggestions for improvement in the wording.
Most of Helquist’s suggestions occurred in the section dealing with unacceptable uses.
One suggestion from the attorney was to add “obscenity, child pornography, harmful to minors or deliberately” to the following item listed as an unacceptable use: “Sending, receiving, or displaying text or images which are or may reasonably be construed by library staff as obscenity, child pornography, harmful to minors, or deliberately offensive to the public and inappropriate in a library setting.”
Library board members rejected Helquist’s suggestion so the section reads, “Sending, receiving, or displaying text or images which are or may reasonably be construed by library staff as offensive to the public and inappropriate in a library setting.”
Library board members also approved removing the word “obscenity” from the next section of the policy for unacceptable use: “Violating federal law, state law, (see specifically Sec. 948.11 of the Wisconsin State Statutes), local ordinances, or library policies, including those governing [obscenity] child pornography or materials harmful to minors.”
The objection to including the word “obscenity” focused on the issue of defining what the word means.
Another suggestion for the policy included replacing “are expected to” with “shall”: “However patrons shall follow all federal and state laws in their Internet use, as well as local ordinances and library policies.”
The draft of the policy used the term “library policy,” but Helquist suggested it read “library policies.”
One section of the Internet use policy focuses on parents and guardians and the age when children are able to be in the library by themselves.
“Parents and guardians are strongly encouraged to work with their children to develop acceptable rules of Internet use,” the policy states.
The policy goes on to say, “Children 8 years old and younger must be in the company of a parent or responsible caregiver at all times in the library. Children 9 years old or older are responsible for their own behavior in the library and must follow library rules. Children 9 years old or older who use the library unattended should have means of contacting a parent or legal guardian. The library staff will attempt to contact the parents or legal guardian of children whose safety is in doubt.”
The remainder of the policy deals with not violating U.S. Copyright law and the scheduling and use of computer stations.
The Colfax Public Library Board unanimously approved the Internet use policy.
Bragg-Hurlburt also reported on the Indianhead Federated Library System’s investigation of a patron data breach that occurred last fall.
The investigation concluded library patron data acquired by an unauthorized user was limited, Bragg-Hurlburt said.
The investigation also concluded it was “unlikely” the personal information of library patrons was involved in the breach, she said.
The software vendor used by IFLS addressed the vulnerability as of December 8 that had allowed an unauthorized user to have access, Bragg-Hurlburt said.
As of November 20, 2017, IFLS removed all identifying data, such as driver’s license numbers, from the database, she said.
IFLS is no longer asking for the driver’s license numbers of library patrons, Bragg-Hurlburt said.