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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Libraries Are Valuable Resource

July 05, 1998

The ideal for the libraries in the Orange County system is two sets of computers. One would give adults unfettered access to the Internet. The other would be for children's use and contain filters to screen out objectionable material, including pornography.

But until the county can find the money for extra computers, the solution endorsed by the Board of Supervisors last month is a good one.

In libraries with only one computer, Internet access will be unfiltered. Children wanting to hook into the World Wide Web will have to bring written permission from their parents.

That permission form will require parental acknowledgment that not everything on the Internet is good. Numerous sites spew hate, from skinheads, anti-Semites and others. Some sites feature pornography, with photos as explicit as anything found in an "adult" bookstore. There are filters that will block access to objectionable sites. But using them would lock out adults as well, which lawyers for Orange and other counties say is unconstitutional. Nor are the filters always very sophisticated. For instance, blocking information on "sex" means a library patron would make do without descriptions of Middlesex or sextuplets.

Permission slips do save parents the requirement of accompanying children to the library and watching over their shoulders as they surf the Net. The slips also can alert adults to the fact that the world of computer services and databases can be problematic. That's a reminder worth issuing periodically, especially as computers become one of the features libraries use to bring in more patrons and introduce them to the artifacts that until recently stood almost alone: books.

Librarians say computers have proven a lure to elementary and high school students. That, in turn, opens up the vast store of knowledge libraries contain, whether in books or computer disks and electronic databases.

Orange County libraries also are providing more than books to adults. Literacy courses provide grown-ups the wherewithal to take advantage of the library's offerings.

In Anaheim, the city's five libraries have begun an adult literacy program funded by a grant from the California State Library.

A city library official said the need for the program was underlined when a local business requested literacy training for some employees and reported that a quarter of its work force was not literate.

The library reported that more than 50 adults are interested in becoming students and has appealed for volunteer tutors.

The county's library system has had its own literacy program for many years, as have community colleges. They have done a good job reaching out to men and women in their 40s and 50s and helping them overcome embarrassment at their inability to read. Computers and literacy programs demonstrate libraries' importance to the community.

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