Family Advocates Demand Internet Filtering in Public Libraries

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Washington, D.C. ( - Easy access to pornography at computer terminals in public libraries constitutes a "serious problem" to children using library computers and to librarians who are exposed to second-hand porn, a group of lawmakers and family advocates told a press conference here Wednesday.

A six-month investigation of documents obtained through Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests to public libraries uncovered 2,062 incidents of patrons, many of them children, accessing pornography in the nation's public libraries, reported David Burt, author of Dangerous Access 2000 Edition: Uncovering Pornography in America's Libraries.

"And this just represents the tip of the iceberg," said Burt, a librarian in the Portland, Oregon system and founder of Filtering Facts.Org, an advocacy organization that promotes the use of filtering software in public libraries.

Librarians witnessed adults instructing children in finding pornography, adults trading in child pornography at the library, and both adults and minors masturbating at library Internet terminals, Burt said.

What is even more disturbing is that the 2,062 incidents reported represent only a fraction of up to 2 million such incidents nationwide every year, Burt said at a news conference sponsored by the Family Research Council.

Nearly all of the nation's public library systems were contacted with requests under FOIA, but 71 percent of public library systems ignored the requests. Others reported they experienced no problems with patrons viewing porn. Both the American Library Association and a number of state libraries sent messages to public libraries suggesting ways that libraries could avoid compliance with the requests, Burt reported.

Several state librarians actually told public libraries in their states not to comply, he said.

Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom with the American Library Association, told Wednesday the ALA was opposed to Internet filtering in public libraries because the material targeted becomes proprietary information of the filtering company.

"We do not know who is making those determinations," Krug said. "So much of the material that is blocked we learn later is not only legitimate but is valuable, useful and in many cases necessary information. In fact some of the figures we have suggest the best filters only filter up to 85 percent of sexual sites.

"And when they're dealing with material that is 'obscene and 'pornographic,' they're dealing with terms of law, and in order to block them legitimately you have to have gone through a court and been able to determine which of these sites really are obscene and therefore illegal," she said.

Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) who sponsored a House bill to address Internet porn, said at the press conference that no library is required to provide access to everything.

"Librarians constantly pick-and-choose what materials to buy and what not to buy - plus which ones belong on the shelves, which belong in the children's section, and which belong behind a counter. Anyone who can't review what Internet sites are not appropriate for kids has no business reviewing what books to buy with our tax dollars.

"This is not censorship; this is simply using good judgment and common sense. Anyone who equates this with censorship needs to sit in a corner and study a dictionary for a while. We're not talking about whether something will be legal or not; we're saying that our tax dollars should not be spent to put pornography in front of our kids."

Istook, a former chairman of a public library system, has introduced legislation (H.R. 2560) that would require filtering software on federally-funded computers in public schools and libraries, to restrict access by minors to obscene material. Adults could override the software if it is found to block appropriate material.

Twice, this funding restriction has been included in appropriations bills, with broad bipartisan support, but both times it was removed from the final bill, at the insistence of the Clinton-Gore administration, Istook reported.