Although they still don’t like it, librarians in Idaho are beginning to adapt to a state law passed in April that will require all public libraries to post an Internet safety policy and install filters on any library computers used by minors.
The filters, which must be installed by October 1, 2012, must protect “against access through … computers to visual depictions that are obscene or child pornography or harmful to minors,” as defined by Chapter 26 or Chapter 27 of Title 33 of the Idaho Code.
Filters are not required on machines used by adults, although a library must ensure that patrons under 18 do not use unfiltered machines. Filters can be disabled for adults and minors for lawful purposes. The new law also requires policies be updated every three years.
“I still maintain that the law was not necessary,” said Ann Joslin, the state librarian. “Prior to the legislative session in January our staff was not aware of any issues that public libraries were having with Internet use. The local libraries seemed to have policies in place and were able to handle things successfully,” she said.
“As the past president of the Idaho Library Association I was working actively to see this bill defeated,” said Bette Ammon, the director of Coeur d’Alene Public Library. “The first version of the bill allowed filtering for everybody, but we were able to alter some of the language so adults could be allowed unfiltered access,” she said, noting that adult use of materials should not be held to the same standard applied to children.
Ammon and others credited Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, with working out a compromise that narrowed the filtering law’s scope.
“I’m always leery of restricting access to information, and in my opinion, the original bill was too restrictive,” Goedde told The Spokesman-Review.
In recognition of Goedde’s efforts, The Idaho Library Association on October 6 named him legislator of the year.
“One of the lessons I learned was that it’s really important to voice your concerns to your legislators and let them know how it will affect your library,” said Becca Stroebel, a reference librarian at the Boise Public Library and legislative co-chair for the Idaho Library Association. “I was impressed by the receptiveness to what we thought were issues with the original law and the willingness to work with us to come up with solutions,” she said.
Nevetheless, the final product, though a workable compromise, was still wanting, Stroebel said.
“The strongest Internet policy safety policy is librarians looking out for their local communities, watching the computers and teaching children how to safely use them,” she said.
Ammon said adding this layer of state control was unnecessary in Idaho, where libraries receive no state aid.
“This was clearly a case where local control was sufficient,” she said. “We didn’t know of any cases where there was any problem. It was a solution looking for a problem, plus it’s an unfunded mandate,” she said.
In Idaho, there are city libraries, which have elected boards, and district libraries, which have appointed boards. All are supported through local property taxes.
A group called Citizens for Decency was the primary mover of the legislation. The group did not respond to an email seeking comment. But the group’s website, which provides little background information, says the group “is devoted to be part of the solution to stem the tide of pornography sweeping the earth.”
The group’s website says it is a IRS-approved 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, but a search of Guidestar provided no Form 990, which all nonprofits must file, for a group based in Idaho.
“They were pushing an agenda,” Stroebel said.
During the House debate, the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “My personal research has convinced me that pornography poses one of the greatest destructive forces on the youth,” The Spokesman-Review reported.
In testimony in March at a Senate Edcucation Committee hearing on the bill, Shirley noted that the development, writing and implementation of policy was left to the local board, therefore it would not be removing local control. But he added: “If libraries choose not to comply, there may be some ramifications down the road that they have to deal with.”
Twenty-five states (as of January 2011) have Internet filtering laws that apply to publicly funded schools or libraries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The majority of these states simply require school boards or public libraries to adopt Internet use policies to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit, obscene or harmful materials. However, some states also require publicly funded institutions to install filtering software.
“At the time it seemed the legislative sponsors were most concerned that Idaho was not showing up on the NCSL list,” said Joslin, the state librarian. “They didn’t seem influenced by people from the Idaho Library Association who were testifying that there wasn’t a problem,” she said.
“Generally speaking the law that passed is less restrictive than what was initially proposed, but it still more restrictive than the legislation in many states,” she said.
Ammon said she would be surprised if any public library in the state did not already have an Internet safety policy in place since the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires public libraries that receive Libraries Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants and E-rate discounts to certify that they are using computer filtering.
However, Joslin said that a number of libraries in the state have declined to participate in the E-rate program, specifically because they had concerns about the filtering requirements.
“We definitely had libraries that were very adamant about not filtering and forgoing the advantages of the E-rate discount. Filtering was an overriding disadvantage,” she said.
The cost of implementing the law will depend on what software a particular library chooses.
“There are free filtering programs but our experience in the library world is you get what you pay for,” Ammon said. “And the free programs are very unsatisfactory in a network environment. It provides a false sense of security. We want parents to be in control of their kids,” she said.
At Coeur d’Alene she said the filtering software costs about $2000 a year for a subscription that licenses multiple work stations.
Idaho librarians are interpreting the new law to mean that they are not required to install filtering software on machines designated for adult use, but because most libraries in the state are small (service populations under 5000) and have limited space, there may be practical concerns.
“Many small libraries don’t have the space to segregate adult computers from children’s computers,” Joslin said. “It just seems that the only practical way they may have of following the law is installing filters on all their computers which then leads to staffing issues if they get frequent requests from adults to turn filters off,” she said.
The median staffing level for Idaho libraries in 2010 was 2.4 FTEs, according to the Public Library Data Service Statistical Report.
“Staff time is already an issue and this is just one more thing that staff will be called upon to do,” Joslin said.
The Idaho Commission for Libraries has provided an extensive list of resources for librarians to use as they implement the law, including a compliance checklist, policy templates and reviews of filtering software.
“Putting off implementation until 2012 was a good thing since it gives us time to put together resources to help libraries make decisions about filters and identify money in their budgets,” Joslin said.
“But my main concern is that people who think filters will protect against pornography might get upset if they find filters aren’t 100 percent effective in doing that. They have unrealistic expectations,” Joslin said. “We’ll have to see if there is any fallout from that after the law is implemented.”
The American Library Association has maintained the position that “the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.”