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Library shields patrons from unwanted Internet views

"Patrons of the Freeland Public Library no longer need fear getting an eyeful of objectionable Internet graphics while standing in line to check out books.This month, the library installed a new generation of privacy screens that do not allow anyone but a computer's user to see what is on the screen. The move came in response to numerous complaints from patrons who observed Internet users looking at pornography during the past year. In the past, the libraries in the Sno-Isle Regional Library System -- of which the Freeland library is a part -- placed polarized privacy screens over the computer monitors to prevent passers-by from seeing objectionable material. However, those screens were not particularly effective.But now, the new screens, plus a re-shuffle of the library's seven Internet computers, should keep potentially objectionable on-line material out of sight, according to Mary Kelly, communications relations manager for Sno-Isle. Kelly said Wednesday that the Freeland Library is the first library in the system to receive the new privacy screens.For $600 per computer, Sno-Isle placed five computer monitors in brackets beneath the library's built-in computer desks, cut screen-sized holes in the desks, and placed polarized glass and plastic hoods over the holes. To use the Internet on those computers, users must now pull a keyboard from under the desk in a special keyboard drawer, then look down to see the screen.The new configuration makes it impossible to see what is on the monitors, unless someone physically pushes a computer user to the side. That is the result Sno-Isle was seeking.This accomplishes in a better way what we hoped the privacy screens would, Kelly said.One option that has never been open to the library system is the filtering of Internet computers. Because of free speech considerations, Sno-Isle has consistently claimed that it cannot block material on the Internet, even if some of it is objectionable to some patrons. However, some machines at local libraries are filtered, including those that are placed in children's reading areas.Kelly said the Freeland library has made doubly sure that patrons at the front desk will be shielded from objectionable material by placing the library's two filtered machines on the desk side of the library. The unfiltered machines are backed up against the library's book shelves.Library Internet users are still trying to adjust to the new screens. Freeland's Larry Fox said Wednesday he felt a little strange while at the secretive Internet terminal.It takes some getting used to, he said.The Freeland Public Library will probably be the only South Whidbey library with the new privacy screens for some time. Kelly said the screen conversions are expensive and will have to be done over time at Sno-Isle's other libraries. A new library scheduled for construction in Granite Falls later this year will probably be the next building to get the new screens. Other Internet-endowed libraries like the Langley Library might have to wait until 2002. "

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