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Paynesville Press - August 06, 2003

Public library installing Internet filters

By Ryan Flanders

Since the Supreme Court upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act in June, Internet filters are required on all computers at public libraries across the United States. Libraries that choose not to comply will lose federal funding.

The Great River Regional Library - which runs the public library in Paynesville and 31 other towns in central Minnesota - is in the process of installing filters on all 250 of its staff and public computers.

If the Great River Regional Library did not install the filters, they would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal funds, according to their technology coordinator David Cole.

"We don't really have a choice in the matter," said Cole. "We have less choice than libraries that have a broader funding base," he said.

Some libraries have rejected federal funding on the basis that the Children's Internet Protection Act violates freedom of speech and information.

However, those concerned about free speech may not really have much to worry about. "If an adult patron 17 years of age or older requests to have the filter disabled, then we disable it for that patron," said Cole. "But they are still required to abide by the acceptable-use policy," he added.

The acceptable use policy says that users may not view or distribute unlawful information, including obscenity and child pornography. This was a common requirement at public libraries before the Children's Internet Protection Act.

Although Internet filters - generally software programs - are designed to screen objectionable websites and allow others to be viewed, they are not perfect. Some objectionable sites may not be blocked, while other legitimate websites, such as health sites, are sometimes accidentally blocked.

The Great River Regional Library system tested a handful of different software filters to find the one with the least number of accidental blocks, said Cole.

"So far, after three weeks, there have been fewer fault blocks than what I expected," said Cole. He said he does not know any major problems, other than the fact that their filtering software, NetNanny, filters only websites and not email.

Although the cost of installing filters is far less than the hundreds of thousands of dollars they would lose in federal funding, it is still not a cheap process, and the federal government is not providing any extra funding. According to Cole,the software alone costs $15 per computer, totalling $3,750 for the 250 computers in the system.

"It takes quite a lot of time to send the tech staff from St. Cloud to all 32 libraries and maintain the updates. I don't have an exact figure, but the travel, installation, and maintenance adds up," said Cole.

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