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Seeking some power to boot

Discussion came after a library patron was viewing pornography on a public computer.

September 07, 2010|By Gretchen Meier

After a library user complained about a man using a library computer to view pornography, Burbank officials say they plan to give librarians the power to eject offending patrons.

The anonymous complaint letter, circulated around several city departments, alleged that a man was watching Internet pornography on a library computer, but after a complaint, the librarians on duty did nothing to stop it beyond informing the man that his behavior was offensive to other patrons.

Although the claim was never verified, Library Services Director Sharon Cohen said officials were considering beefing up the current policy, while walking the fine line of not restricting 1st Amendment access.


In the current library policy, filtering software is used on the computers that are physically located in a separate children's area. The policy states that “not only does such software sometimes fail to block certain sites that are inappropriate for children, but it may also block sites that are in fact appropriate for children.”

Computers located outside of the designated children's area, however, do not have any filtering software installed.

“It's a difficult line for us,” Cohen said. “For kids, there are precautions, but we need to maintain 1st Amendment freedoms in a public library.”

The access and usage policy prohibits the viewing or downloading of obscene materials or child pornography, as well as any activities that interfere with or disrupt other library patrons, employees, services or equipment.

“Once we start infringing on someone's 1st Amendment rights, it's just downhill from there,” Cohen said. “We have very few instances or complaints of this nature, and most immediately exit when informed they have bothered another patron.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government is entitled to restrict children's access to certain kinds of sexually explicit material, even if the material isn't obscene or illegal for adults. The Burbank library, in cooperation with the city attorney's office, is looking to include parts of the California penal code to give more power to library officials to handle complaints.

Under the new rules to be considered, if a librarian asks a patron to stop viewing online material offensive to other patrons, and the person refuses to comply with requests to leave, police could be called in to make an arrest.

“It's one of the things we've been discussing and we've seen other libraries in the area, such as Pasadena, put similar language in place,” said the Senior Assistant City Atty. Jina Oh. “It's something we're looking to incorporate as quickly as possible.”

And even if the new rules are approved, it does not mean those in violation of the policy will automatically be prosecuted, Oh added.

In Pasadena, the policy hasn't gotten in the way of operations, said Jan Sanders, the director of public libraries for Pasadena.

“Our current Internet policy has served us well,” she said. “We don't indicate what cannot be viewed because it is very difficult to establish what is of an offensive nature, but we do our best to remind patrons that they are viewing in a public area.”

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