Westfield Mom Calls for Filters on All Children's Computers at Library

Two of the four computers in the Westfield Memorial Library's children's section with internet access were equipped with filters this spring. Credits: Jill D'Ambrosio

WESTFIELD, NJ – Colby Sheppard, a Westfield mom who said her 11 year-old son stumbled upon pornography on a computer in the children's section of the Westfield Memorial Library in January, plans to create an online petition this fall and drum up local support to install filters on all computers with internet access in the library’s children’s section.

Sheppard has lobbied the library board of trustees and the town council on the matter. In April, the library installed filters on two of the four computers in the children’s section, but Sheppard wants to have all children’s computers equipped with filters.

She hoped the board would revisit the issue at its meeting on Aug. 20, but the meeting was canceled, she said. The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the library’s meeting room.

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Sheppard says she has met with resistance from library officials on the question of filters.

“They’ve got their heels really dug into this one,” she said.

Her son now uses the filtered computers when at the library. She agrees with the need for parent oversight while children use computers but believes inappropriate material can be found during internet searches nonetheless.

“Honestly, when most [parents] are there, they’re not going to stand over their kid,” Sheppard said, adding that some patrons may be busy with younger children during their visits. “There is still room for accidents and error when it comes to typing on the internet.”

Enough Is Enough, a non-partisan organization dedicated to internet safety for kids, recommends “a layered approach of monitoring, filtering, time limiting, safe search settings among other tools to protect children," according to its website, www.enough.org, "but remember that these tools are no substitute for parental and adult supervision and guidance online."

Jennifer Schulze, head of adult services for the library, said that the librarians have not heard any other complaints about the children’s section computers since the issue came to light earlier this year. She explained the library’s position last week while director Philip Israel was away on vacation.

The idea that parents are responsible for the materials their children borrow from the library, such as videos, extends to computer use, she said.

“It’s sort of the same philosophy, that we allow parents to be the monitors, not us,” said Schulze.

Additionally, library officials believe that filters may block out internet sites that are legitimate for research. The American Library Association  made similar claims in a press release.

Schools and libraries nationwide are routinely filtering internet content far more than what the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires, according to “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later,” a report released by the American Library Association (ALA). CIPA requires public libraries and K-12 schools to employ internet filtering software to receive certain federal funding, according to the release.

“Over-filtering blocks access to legitimate educational resources, and consequently reduces access to information and learning opportunities for students,” said Barbara Stripling, president of ALA when the release was written.

Dan Kleinman, who co-founded SafeLibraries, a New Jersey watchdog group, said that the Westfield library “is acting outside the law by allowing in porn and child porn despite the law.”

“Library law creates libraries for educational and recreational purposes for the use and benefit of the citizens. In other words, there are actual limits on what libraries can do,” Kleinman said. “They cannot do anything outside the law that created them. Porn is neither for the use nor benefit of the citizens, actually it harms the citizens, so it falls outside the law that created libraries. Municipal governments have the right and duty to stop libraries from acting outside the law, and they can do so without violating a library's veil of autonomy.”

Town leaders appear to disagree with Kleinman’s statement.

At the town council meeting on April 28, at which Sheppard appealed to the council members to install filters on the all four computers, Mayor Andy Skibitsky responded that by state law the town council was not allowed to intervene in library board of trustees matters. Town Attorney Russell Finestein then said that the town council had no jurisdiction in this matter and Sheppards’s concerns should continue to be brought to the library board of trustees.

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