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Voices / A Forum For Community Issues

The Los Angeles Public Library Replies

August 02, 1997|SUSAN KENT | City librarian, Los Angeles

Ms. Murry's essay illustrates the complexities that public libraries all across the U.S. face regarding public access to the Internet in library facilities. Some people have made the assumption that the Internet is a source of moral corruption and that the public library is responsible for monitoring the Net to protect the community's children. While we understand the concerns that some parents have with their children's use of the Internet, we should not forget that the public library serves everyone in the community.

People use the library in myriad ways. Everyone has a right to find whatever information he or she needs, be it for business, scholarship, self-enlightenment or enjoyment. It has never been the library's policy to tell people what they should or should not inquire into, or to foist our personal viewpoints on our users. The principle we adhere to is that no matter who our users are, regardless of their economic status, their educational attainment, beliefs or cultural background, they have the right to come to the library and find, or get help finding, what they see fit to find.

The recent Supreme Court decision that overturned the Communications Decency Act established a broad protection for free expression on the Internet. The court affirmed that the Internet is a unique medium that deserves the highest degree of 1st Amendment protection and that content-based regulations are unconstitutional.

This means that we at the library will continue to educate parents on the best ways to use the Internet with their children so that parents can decide for themselves what they want their children to see or not see. The American Library Assn. has a terrific resource brochure that includes "50 Great Sites for Kids" as recommended by children's librarians. We will be providing this guide and pointing to the ALA's Website (www.ala.org/parentspage/greatsites) from the Los Angeles Public Library's Web page.

We are testing a variety of computer privacy screens which would allow only the person sitting directly in front of a terminal to see what is on it.

We will continue to provide public access to the Internet and not control or censor content. The use of the Internet is solely in the purview of the individual user. In the case of children, it has always been the library's policy that it is parents who have the right and responsibility to guide their children's reading, viewing and use of the Internet.

There are some people who use the Internet to locate materials that others might categorize as objectionable, just as there have always been people who felt that certain print materials in libraries are objectionable. Over the years, there have been many attempts to censor or ban library materials, including books like "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Huckleberry Finn" and the Bible. But under the 1st Amendment, those efforts were thwarted.

The Los Angeles Public Library is committed to serving the community. However, there is a difference between community service and arbitrating morality. The library, while certainly a participant in the community, cannot be its moderator of morality.

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