Net proposal worries area library officials

Net proposal worries area library officials

Proposed legislation in Congress to protect minors from online predators has some local libraries concerned that access to useful Web sites will be blocked as well.

The Deleting Online Predators Act would require libraries and schools to install online filtering software that prevents access by minors to social networking Web sites – ones that allow users to create Web pages or profiles and communicate through instant messaging, forums, e-mail and chat rooms, such as MySpace.com. The act would allow libraries to disable the blocks for educational use by adults and minors with parental supervision.

If they don't use the filters, it is unclear what the repercussions would be.

"It's feel-good legislation," said Barb Nolan, executive director of the Danville Public Library.

Nolan believes that recent media attention to online predator playgrounds has spurred legislators into drafting the legislation. Five of the act's 24 co-sponsors are Illinois representatives.

The Illinois Library Association in Chicago e-mailed its members last week and asked them to petition their representatives to reject the act.

Association Executive Director Robert Doyle said his board voted earlier this month to oppose the legislation.

"While we applaud them to be concerned, we do think this particular act is just too broad," Doyle said.

Champaign Public Library Director Marsha Grove said she didn't think the act would protect children.

"The library uses chat to answer questions," Grove said. "We don't want to see chat rooms eliminated at libraries."

Frederick Schlipf, executive director of the Urbana Free Library, said board members there have not discussed the legislation, but he personally believes the act provides a false sense of security.

"Unsuitable pictures are a lot less dangerous than unsuitable friends," Schlipf said. "I think the problem with things like this is the enforcement becomes very complex and the brush is very broad – it tends to be Draconian."

Danville library President Bill Satterwhite discussed the act with his board this week, calling the legislation a "knee-jerk reaction."

"I'm suspicious of this one because this is an election year," Satterwhite said. "It makes life very difficult for libraries. I think it's well-intentioned legislation, but I don't think they understand the ramifications of what it would restrict."

Randy Fletcher, dean of library and academic services at Danville Area Community College, agreed.

"A lot of information blogs come through a lot of associations we work with," he said. "If that's restricted, it's really going to impede how we share information."

Westville Public Library Director Rick Balsamello is not a supporter, either.

"It's going to be a big expense to libraries, and it's not going to do what it's supposed to do," he said.

The Danville library does require minors to have a guardian sit with them while using the Web.

The library's policy committee discussed limiting chat room accessibility a few months ago, yet tabled any action to do so.

"We were doing it to (steer) people to use the Internet as a tool rather than an electronic telephone," Nolan said.

If the proposed act is passed, Nolan said that it would limit the sites librarians often use to exchange information.

"Teaching kids how to be careful is the best way to protect kids," Nolan said.

The legislation now sits in the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

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