As a parent you can learn something new everyday. When your children are old enough to walk places in the neighborhood alone or with a friend, chances are they may also learn new things as they independently navigate their way, even if just a short distance. Sometimes, the things they learn and see are things parents don’t anticipate.
That’s what happened to two Snoqualmie 6th graders on January 5, 2015, when on their own studying at the Snoqualmie King County Library Branch.
The 11-year olds saw something shocking, pornography. And one of their mothers learned something that also shocked her: adults can use public library computers to access explicit images that most parents deem unacceptable for children; images many consider pornography.
The two girls were in a study room at the Snoqualmie Library, which sits behind a bank of eight computer stations, when they noticed the images on a man’s computer screen through the room’s glass window.
The girls did what they were taught to do when something doesn’t seem right. They went to an adult – the librarian – and informed her about the images on the man’s computer screen.
But there was nothing the librarian could do unless the images were of children. Because the images were not considered illegal, the librarian’s hands were tied.
The girls were upset and called one of their mothers, Meg Barlament, who went straight to the library for further clarification.
Meg said she was told although it was terrible the girls saw what they did, the man had the right to look at whatever he wanted as long as it wasn’t child pornography – and there was nothing the librarian could do. Meg contacted the police who also said there was nothing they could do.
Parents, wondering how this is possible? It’s all related to the law, the constitution, policies and mission statements.
Internet Filtering Policy, Libraries for All
The King County Library System has an internet filtering policy that states: “KCLS uses the Internet filtering protocols of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which mandates that any public library using federal funding must filter Internet access to screen for obscenity, child pornography, and in the case of minors, material that is deemed harmful to them.”
Library computers have default filters in place ranging from ‘Max Filter’ in the children’s computer area, to ‘Under 17 Plus’ for younger library patrons, to ’17 and Up Only.’
According to CIPA law, all adult library patrons must initially have internet filtering, so all adult library cards are set to the ’17 and Up Only’ filter, which screens out child pornography, phishing, potentially unwanted software, pornography, etc.
But adult patrons can show photo ID and have their status changed to ‘Unfiltered,’ removing blocks from the computer. In the United States, pornography is legal, protected by the 1st Amendment. Child pornography is not.
KCLS Community Relations Director, Julie Acteson, who was sensitive to the concerns of parents, said per their policy, KCLS cannot stop adults from viewing things on library computers that are considered legal.
The Library System’s mission is to is “to provide free, open and equal access to ideas and information to all members of the community.”
Aceteson explained their Internet Filtering Policy is in line with that mission statement and added that pornography is also subjective – what one person might consider pornographic, another person may not.
It’s a slippery legal slope as constitutionally, sexually explicit material cannot be banned for adults and libraries are for all people, adults and children.
Acteson said it’s one of the reasons why the computers are located in a central part of the library and not in private areas, explaining most times people don’t like to view explicit images if they think other people can see what they’re viewing – so the majority of the time they don’t.
As for the Snoqualmie Library and it’s small, open design, parents may want to be aware that although rare, their children could see things on library computer screens not allowed at home or in a movie theater – even if their own library card doesn’t allow it.
As for the Snoqualmie girls who witnessed those explicit images and mom Meg Barlament? They all want the possibility of pornography in the library NOT to be an option.
Meg started a Facebook page called, Stop Pornography in the Snoqualmie Library and All Public Places, and hopes more community members will help her with the fight to keep other children from seeing the shocking images her daughter witnessed while just trying to do homework at the library.