Libraries to block some X-rated sites

Nervous staff say children's Web filters not enough

April 14, 2000
By Louise Surette
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Internet access in the children's sections of Toronto libraries will soon include filters to help stop an alarming increase in patrons surfing the Web for violent and pornographic sites.

In May, computer terminals in all children's sections of the city's 98 public libraries will block sexually explicit material, violent content and hate literature.E-mail services and chat rooms also will be restricted.

But library workers say the move will do little to protect them from abusive teens and adults who refuse to stop visiting the sites.

``We felt a special responsibility to protect children and provide a safe and welcoming environment and age-appropriate material in children's departments,'' said Syd Jones, director of public relations for Toronto Public Libraries.

``We are giving library users the choice to use the filtered or unfiltered terminals.'' This is a bold move for Canadian libraries. They have traditionally taken the view that the principle of intellectual freedom applies to Internet access and so have been loath to filter, ban or block Web sites.

The decision to filter was prompted by the fact more children were starting to use the Internet and needed protection, said Wendy Newman, president of the Canadian Association of Public Libraries.

Library workers say the plan doesn't go far enough. The number of people logging on to X-rated sites is growing, they say, leading to embarrassing and often volatile incidents between staff and patrons.

A year ago, police had to be called after a librarian was chased and cursed at when she asked a group of men to stop viewing a pornography site at the Downsview Public Library.

Last week at the Hanover Public Library, near Owen Sound, librarian Sheila Garrity quit because of the number of adults visiting the library to view X-rated sites.

Rob Rolfe, a library worker at the Downsview Public Library and a Canadian Union of Public Employees representative, says the biggest problem is dealing with large groups of noisy teenagers who surround the terminals looking at pornographic sites or taking part in sex chats.

Asking patrons to leave or be quiet can cause confrontations. Most library workers are hesitant to talk openly about the problem, embarrassed by some of the incidents they've had to deal with.

The situation in many libraries has created a stressful environment that leaves many librarians saying they feel more like security guards. ``It raises the issue of safety for workers,'' Rolfe said. Phea Adams, a library worker at McGregor Library in Scarborough, agreed.

"We are caught because we don't want to look at a lot of this stuff on the Web sites, but at the same time if we confront the user we don't know what kind of reaction we are going to get.''

Jones said the rules of conduct for Toronto libraries are that users aren't allowed to disrupt the enjoyment of others. The problem for staff, said Rolfe, is knowing what constitutes a disruption and how to respond.

``We have had difficulty convincing management that this is an urgent thing, that it isn't an intellectual question, it is a day to day safety issue.''