Friday, March 25, 2011

Library Internet bill unnecessary, costly


On behalf of myself and the Hailey Public Library's board of trustees, I'm writing this to express our opposition to Bill 205, scheduled to be presented to and voted upon by the Idaho Senate. The bill would require libraries to put into place Internet technology that blocks access to obscene material.

First, the requirement of censorship and filtration on our Internet services will place an unnecessary financial strain on our library. As a city, Hailey has faced many budget cuts, and as a department of the city, the library has already faced challenges in fiscal planning. The budget for the library for this year is already set, and to amend it now would be time-consuming and costly. In addition to this, proper, efficient filtration systems are costly and do not fit into the budget; if one of the available free systems is used we run the risk of technical errors and complications that would take more time and money to fix.

Second, Internet filters are flawed and provide a false sense of upholding "community" values; filters tend to be either overly sensitive or under-sensitive to material. This allows users potentially to be withheld needed information for research while allowing offensive material to be displayed. Passage of this bill would also take control of local libraries away from their governing bodies, representatives of the public, to determine policies that uphold community standards. It is absurd to advocate and enforce a "one-size-fits-all" policy throughout the state when each district has its own set of values and culture.

Third, the phrasing of this bill is open to bias and interpretation in its allowing "authorized access for bona fide research" while not defining such research. While allowing libraries moderate leeway in determining acceptable materials, it also would lend itself to withholding information from a library patron if a librarian's personal beliefs are in opposition to the research (this would include such controversial topics as abortion, stem cell research, etc.). Our patrons have a right to all this information without having to define it as "bona fide research."

Fourth, we maintain a non-censorship policy at the Hailey Public Library. Patrons at a public library have a right to information regardless of topic and personal beliefs. This does not mean that the library is a free-for-all; at our discretion, when inappropriate material is brought to our attention, we have the authority to shut it down and remind the offending patron that our library is a public place and that certain materials are not allowed, and to please respect the library and community or forfeit library access. This allows us to maintain control of and uphold community values within our own library and not be subject to non-diverse legislation.

Bill 205 is not accomplishing anything other than exerting state control of libraries without clear definition of what materials patrons have a right to access and placing unnecessary burdens on libraries.

(The bill was passed by the House on March 14. Both Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Donna Pence, D-Gooding, voted in favor.)


LeAnn Gelskey is director of the Hailey Public Library.

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