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Library Internet ?filter' stays in place

By Ed Brock

Sherry Baker paused in her Internet search for vacation information on a library computer to voice her support for the filtering system required by the federal Child Internet Protection Act.

"There's just too much junk on here for kids to see," said Baker.

It was the 40-year-old Jonesboro woman's first time on one of the 14 computers at the Clayton County Headquarters Library on Battlecreek Road. She was far from alone as just about every computer in the room was occupied.

And each computer is equipped with a program that prevents the display of potentially offensive Web sites, a program endorsed by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a 6-3 decision last week, the Court decided that CIPA, which requires that all libraries that receive federal funding have the software on their Internet capable computers, does not violate the First Amendment.

The decision is welcome in Clayton County, said Flora Walker, assistant library director for Collection Development and Branch Services. In fact, this county's library system doesn't need the promise of federal money to use the filtering program.

"We always viewed it more as something we did as a selection decision," Walker said. "We select what we feel is needed."

Walker said they are currently upgrading to a new, improved program that will give them "more uniformity with other libraries that filter." The quality of the programs was a major complaint in United States vs. American Library Association as critics said the programs "overblock" and prohibit access to non-offensive Web sites.

"They've gotten better," Walker said. "For a while if you looked up Essex, England you got kicked out."

And even now all a user who is denied access to a legitimate site has to do is ask a library staff member to disable the program for them. They can be surprisingly liberal in that regard.

"We've had people ask for gambling sites to be over-ridden and we did it," Assistant Library Director Jeanne Hozak said.

Only about 15 percent of the people who use the library computers are minors, Hozak said. Most are adults like 26-year-old Katashia Sellers of Jonesboro.

"I come here once a week," Sellers said. "I've never had any trouble finding a site. I generally use the Internet for finding jobs, posting my resume."

Overall the computers are "very much in use," Walker said. The headquarters library has the most computers while the Riverdale branch has 12, Forest Park has six (soon to have 10), Jonesboro has six and Morrow has three.

"There never seem to be enough," Walker said.

Walker would like to see more screening capability, something to filter out inaccurate information.

"Anybody can put anything out there," Walker said, adding that one benefit of accessing the Internet from the library is that the staff can often validate the information that comes up.

If CIPA had been overturned, Walker said, they probably would have checked with the county attorney to find a way to legally keep as much of the filtering capability that they could.

"It has certainly been something our public has expected us to do, to make sure nobody is inadvertently exposed to something they don't want to see," Walker said.