Computer screens in the adult services area of the Brookfield Public Library will be outfitted with privacy screens as a way to prevent other patrons from being exposed to material they deem offensive.
Members of the library board voted unanimously Dec. 28 to purchase six of the devices, which can be placed over any computer monitor and shield content from anyone who is not directly in front of the computer screen. Each of the screens costs $185, according to library Director Kimberly Litland.
“It’s an expensive option, but we can use them on any monitor,” Litland said.
Board members opted for purchasing the privacy screens after a Brookfield resident complained that her 12-year-old son had been exposed to pornography while he was using the copy machine, which is located directly adjacent to the adult services computers.
The woman’s son related to her that on Dec. 1, while he was standing at the copy machine, a man using one of the computers was viewing pornography openly. This is not the first complaint library officials have received about pornography being viewed on computers in the adult services area, which are not subject to any sort of preventive filters. The library faced a similar complaint in 2003.
Computers in the youth services department have protective filters to prevent children being exposed to pornography accidentally.
“I was completely surprised, shocked,” said the woman, who requested anonymity to protect the identity of her son. “It’s disgusting that happens in the library. I had assumed this was not happening here. My question is, do people have the right to openly view pornography here? Do our children not have the right to not be exposed to this in our library?”
In addition to purchasing privacy screens, the library board’s Policy Committee will begin formulating a new computer use policy in an attempt to prevent patrons from surfing the Web for porn.
Currently the computer use policy simply prohibits users from committing illegal acts, which would include viewing child pornography. But the policy does not specifically prohibit viewing pornography that is protected by the First Amendment.
“We need a public use agreement and a policy about behavior,” said board Secretary Barbara Garvey, “what is an isn’t acceptable behavior.”
The board has consistently been reluctant to simply place filters on the adult services computers. Library board President Margaret Blasage cited the American Library Association’s position on such filters. According to Blasage, the ALA’s position is that filtering constitutionally protected speech could lead to lawsuits.
“We need to deal with other issues, not filtering,” Blasage said. “Filtering is as wrong as it is right.”
In the interim, the privacy screens will serve as a temporary solution to the problem of providing adults with free access to Internet materials versus other patrons’ rights to enjoy the library without being exposed to things they would prefer to avoid.
“We’re all faced with the important question of safeguarding First Amendment rights of patrons versus protecting our children,” said board member Judith Sweet. “The privacy filters will, to the best of our ability, meet those requirements as well as can be expected.”
The board will examine space allocation in the library, a long-standing juggling act for the space-cramped library. Board members and staff deemed a request to simply move the computers to another area of the library as impractical.
“The outlets for the computers are in the floor, not the walls,” Litland said. “I think [buying the privacy screens] is a much more reasonable and cost-effective approach.”
However, in the future, library officials may seek a way to separate high-traffic areas?”like the copy machine and the video section, which is also near the adult services computers?”from computer work stations.
Litland also added that while library staff would attempt to be vigilant about inappropriate computer use, there was no way to ensure 100 percent compliance with any policy. For example, she said, the library allows patrons to bring in their own laptop computers and other hand-held devices, which can connect to the Internet wirelessly.
“While we’re horrified that someone may be exposed to these things, we really can’t control technology to the fullest extent that some people would like us to,” Litland said.
The woman who complained about the Dec. 1 incident involving her son said that she was satisfied that library board members acted to purchase the privacy screens.
“I feel it’s safer,” she said. “It’s a good solution.”