County judge attempts to cut library funding completely if libraries do not add filters


JET writes "Two from the Dallas News One and TwoLibrarians from across the county filled rows of seats in the Commissioners Courtroom to argue against Judge Mary Horn’s plan to fund only libraries that agree to filter their library computers. The group was the most visible and vocal of the day — many wore red shirts and stickers that read “Keep our Libraries Out of the Red!�Denton County has proposed cutting its funding to county libraries and nonprofit organizations by 20 percent. The library funding, however, could be eliminated under County Judge Mary Horn's proposal."


a story from at: alnews/columnists/all/stories/043005dnmetfloyd.5da60a86.html)================================================== ====================08:58 PM CDT on Friday, April 29, 2005
  You know, I always thought it might be pleasant to be a librarian, to spendall day in a peaceful place surrounded by books, to light a little lamp ofknowledge against the void of ignorance.
  On second thought, though, the job might make me run screaming and flailinginto the street. Other people's lofty ideals and smug politicalgrandstanding seem to be making the librarian life awfully difficult thesedays.
  Let us review the tortured recent history of the little public library inthe Denton County town of Pilot Point, where you could get whiplash tryingto keep up with the shouting over Internet access.
  The Pilot Point library, which serves not just the town but the surroundingcounty, had computers with unfiltered Internet access until about six yearsago.
  Then the town's council demanded that the computers be filtered to blockout pornographic Web sites. After 18 months with the filtered computers, afew patrons said their First Amendment rights were being violated, and theythreatened to sue.
  The town, terrified of getting caught up in a long legal fight it couldn'tafford, took the advice of its attorney to discontinue Internet accessaltogether.
  This year, the Texas State Library and Archive Commission warned thatlibraries without Internet service will lose state support.
  So three days ago, Pilot Point turned the computers back on.
  Now Denton County Judge Mary Horn says that if Pilot Point and other arealibraries don't restore their filters, she'll work to cut their countyfunding.
  Let's review: With filtered Internet, you risk disastrous lawsuits. WithoutInternet filters, you lose funding you desperately need. If you pull theplug altogether, the state will cut you off. My head is whirling like acentrifuge.
  It's mighty easy to take a political position here, but not so easy to copewith the practical fallout.
  Easy, for instance, to nod in earnest agreement when Ms. Horn flatly said:"I don't want taxpayer-provided porn."
  Well, that's pretty unassailable high ground. To disagree makes it soundlike you're in favor of drooling perverts camping out at the public library,gazing hungrily at filthy videos and bizarre sex acts while little childrenare working on their book reports nearby.
  The reality isn't so simple. The filters create more problems then theysolve, said Pilot Point library director Phyllis Tillery.
  "They're expensive, and they don't work," Ms. Tillery said.
  People think "porn filters" work like putting on a pair of sunglasses toscreen out the glare and harmful rays. In reality, it's more like putting abucket over your head.
  Libraries have found that filters for which they paid many thousands ofdollars block access to all kinds of information.
  The software Pilot Point previously used caused the computers to flash awarning and lock up when people tried to access a public list of registeredsex offenders; when they tried to access government employment forms thatasked for the applicant's "sex"; when women sought information about breastcancer; when the mother of a rape victim tried to research treatmentoptions.
  Embarrassed patrons would have to get a librarian to reboot the computerevery time.
  "They'd be saying, 'Honestly, I didn't do anything wrong,' " Ms. Tillerysaid. A few were so mortified they left and didn't come back.
  About the only people who figured out how to get around the filters, Ms.Tillery said, were the determined high school kids they were supposed toprotect.
  "I think that if you use some common sense and you have a good policy,you'll be fine," she said.
  Instead of filters, she thinks libraries should put the computers wherethey're visible to employees and post rules warning that pornography isoff-limits.
  Makes sense to me.
  About five minutes into the conversation with Ms. Tillery, I got the sensethat if she caught you looking at dirty pictures on the library computer,she'd call the cops and chase you out to the parking lot.
  It's easy to have an opinion in this debate. It's a lot harder to cope withthe reality.E-mail [email protected]

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