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Library tightens Internet policy

Starting July 1, Sno-Isle libraries will change their Internet policy in order to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

That means anyone using a library computer will automatically received filtered access that restricts sites featuring human sexuality, nudity, adult content or pornography. While adults who are 17 and older can request unfiltered access, children can’t get unrestricted access, even with a parent’s permission.

The Sno-Isle board voted several months ago to comply with the federal act. In doing so, the library system is eligible for federal discounts on telecommunications, which amounts to $5,748 for the 2004-2005 period, according to Becky Bolte, island regional manager for Sno-Isle.

For the average kid, the change may actually mean more access to the World Wide Web. The library currently runs the highest level of restrictions in the filtering program for youth under 18 years old. In addition to sexual material, it blocks out e-mail and chat, as well as subjects like drugs, alcohol, suicide, gambling, school cheating and swimsuits. Parents have the choice of overriding the restrictions and allowing their children to have unfiltered access.

But starting tomorrow, the computers will filter out only sites that feature graphic depictions (images, not text) of human sexuality, nudity, adult content or pornography. The entire site, or URL, is blocked and there will be no exceptions for kids under 17.

Bolte said the computers in the children’s room will retain the highest level of restrictions. Even adults who use computers in the children’s room will have fully filtered access. She pointed out that parents who want their children to have highly-filtered access to the Internet can simply direct them to the computers in the children’s area.

According to Bolte, the library system uses a software system called “Bess” to filter Internet access.

“It works pretty well, as well as any filter can,” she said.

The filtering system allows for “human reviews,” Bolte said. If a patron runs across something that is blocked and shouldn’t be, he or she can submit the site to be reviewed by a Bess employee.

The system lets the user know that a site is being blocked. Bolte said a picture of a dog with a stop sign pops up on the screen and a message states the site is blocked. It asks the user if he or she wants the site reviewed for possible future access.

The Oak Harbor library currently has 25 computers with internet access. They are in use all the time, Bolte said, which is why there continues to be a two-hour limit on usage.

If a new library is built in downtown Oak Harbor, Bolte said it will likely be built as a hotspot, which is a location with an access point providing public wireless broadband network services to mobile visitors through a WLAN. That means a person with a laptop computer can “plug into” the internet without wires. She said the library may also loan out laptops.

“Who know what technology will bring in five years for libraries or the world in general,” she said.

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