2005-02-16 / Front Page

Residents say library used for viewing pornography

Constitutional issues involved
By Lori Porter

By Lori Porter

Several Oak Park residents say they are outraged after discovering that two middle-aged male patrons of the Oak Park High School library frequently use the facility’s computer terminals to view pornographic websites.

The residents, who asked to remain anonymous, say the men spend time each day at the library looking at electronic porn.

One woman said she spoke to authorities, but was told that adult citizens have the right through the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to view any website, pornographic or otherwise, at public libraries.

The Oak Park library is unique because it serves both public school students and the general public. The challenge for Ventura County library and Oak Park school district officials is to protect the rights of underage students and the First Amendment rights of adults.

In addition to the library’s separate hours of operation for students and the public, there are also separate computers for public and education use.

The library has 19 student computers, six juvenile computers and 10 adult computers. Adult computers are equipped with privacy screens. Students are never allowed to use adult computers.

"This is a balancing act of First Amendment rights," said Lynn McCormick, Oak Park High School principal. He said it is not the responsibility of school officials to tell adult patrons which sites they can and cannot access.

Oak Park district superintendent Tony Knight said when school board members considered a joint–use library, this issue never came up. Knight believes the district is doing the best it can to accommodate and protect its students.

"What happens during public library hours is in the public domain," Knight said. "We want to do everything in our power during school library hours to protect our students from viewing adult material."

Evidently the U.S. Congress is also interested in protecting students. Recognizing how easy it was for underage Internet users to access adult material, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act in 2000.

This federal law requires schools and libraries that receive federal aid to have certain Internet safety measures in place. These include filters that block pictures which are obscene, contain child pornography or are harmful to minors.

In addition to these measures, schools are required to adopt a policy to monitor the online activities of minors. Schools and libraries are required to adopt a policy addressing the safety and security of minors when using e-mail, chat rooms and other forms of electronic communication.

According to authorities, the Internet law only applies to libraries that receive federal aid.

Starrett Kreissman, library director for Ventura County, said the Oak library doesn’t receive any federal aid.

Years before the law was enacted, the Ventura County library system filtered all Internet access for its patrons until a local group sued and won its case based on the First Amendment.

Today, the library system remains under a court order that states all adults must receive unmonitored, unfiltered access to the Internet.

If federal aid was available and the Ventura County Library system got that aid, the library would have to follow the requirements established by federal law, not the court order.

Meanwhile, library officials have made some changes to address library patrons concerned with the viewing of adult websites.

In order to avoid any accidental viewing of adult material, library officials recently moved two adult computers to a space that is more isolated. The two men mentioned earlier use these computers which are now located near a window in back of the library.

McCormick believes the community has been successful at maximizing the use of its library.

"We are sensitive to the needs and rights of all the library patrons," she said "We’ve found a way to make all patrons happy."

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