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Residents express their opinions on library Internet porn

"A roomful of Whidbey Island residents readily accepted the invitation to speak their minds about blocking library Internet computer access to pornography. About 75 people crowded into the Oak Harbor Library meeting room Monday evening, many telling the Sno-Isle Library System board of trustees exactly what it asked to hear. It appeared to be a North Whidbey affair. If anyone attended from South Whidbey, they didn't identify themselves, even though the issue has caused controversy at the Freeland Library. No censorship. No way. No time, said Oak Harbor resident George Crampton. Crampton addressed the concern expressed by parents that children might have access to Internet pornography at the library, or might accidentally see pornographic images on the screen of a computer operated by another library patron. It is the responsibility of parents, Crampton said, to monitor children's activities and protect them from harm. Others had a different opinion about the subject of unrestricted access to the Internet in the public libraries within the Sno-Isle Library System. Sno-Island operates libraries on Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland, Langley and Clinton. This is a taxpayers' facility. There shouldn't be any porn on these computers, said James Bowers of Oak Harbor. While the crowd was split in its views on the Internet-access debate, the majority of those who spoke were in favor of filtering Internet access in the library. An informal show of hands indicated that just more than half of the forum participants would like to have filtering software installed on all the library's computers. Speakers from both sides received cheers from the crowd, and mediator Michelle Robinson at times was challenged to not only facilitate the forum, but to keep the crowd focused on the issue and avoid an active debate with each other. Often speakers offered emotionally charged statements, and some became frustrated that others would challenge their views. One anti-filtering supporter left early, mumbling on his way out that he could no longer listen to this crap. One man offered a middle-ground philosophy. Just because something is protected speech doesn't mean the library is obligated to provide it or to include it in its resources, said Marshall McBride, an Oak Harbor resident, associate pastor and music instructor who said he is pro-First Amendment and for freedom of expression. So that's not censorship when they choose not to be a supplier or an access point of pornography, he said. It can still exist out in society so people can still access it by other means. The four meetings to gather public comment had been organized for a couple of reasons, said Mary Kelly, Sno-Isle Library System community relations manager. We have had some interest expressed on the part of members of the community to change the Sno-Isle Internet policy, Kelly said. And the second thing is late last year Congress and the President passed into law the Children's Internet Protection Act, which while it's being challenged in the courts right now, calls for filtering on all public library terminals. There is an 18-month staging period for libraries to come into compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act, Kelly said. Libraries are not required to comply with CIPA, but federal funding is tied to compliance. But the purpose of the four forums is to help decide the Sno-Isle Library System's Internet policy based on what the public wants, said Kelly. Sno-Isle's Internet policy provides open access to all to the Internet - even children, Kelly said. However, every library has at least one, and in most cases more than one, filtered terminal. Typically they are located close or inside the children's area. The board passed that policy in 1998 as a way to give parents a choice. The board was prompted to call for the four public meetings first because of the Children's Internet Protection Act. One public meeting is required for the board to change any policy, Kelly said. Secondly, there were people coming to the board meetings, asking for the Sno-Isle Library System to change the policy and to install filters on all terminals, she said. The forum in Oak Harbor was the second of four taking place at locations throughout the Sno-Isle Library System. The first took place last Thursday in Monroe. The meetings will wrap up this week with the third meeting tonight at the Lynnwood Library meeting room and Thursday night at the Marysville Library meeting room. Both are scheduled to take place from 7-9 p.m. The board of trustees is expected to meet formally at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 25 at the Oak Harbor Library to consider the community feedback gathered at the four public meetings. "

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