- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Washington-area librarians were skeptical yesterday of a Supreme Court decision upholding a 2000 federal law requiring public libraries to install anti-pornography software, but the ruling was praised by parents and pro-family groups.

“Libraries should be havens of learning and safety, not of pornographers and predators,” said Victoria Cobb, director of legislative affairs for the Family Foundation, a Virginia public-policy advocacy group. “The court’s decision that with federal funds comes some responsibility toward the community and children seems very reasonable.”

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Children’s Internet Protection Act passed by Congress in 2000. The law requires libraries that receive federal funding, known as e-rate funds, to install anti-pornography filters, which would block the sites from public access.

Since the law was signed by President Clinton, Congress has doled out more than $250 million to public libraries and schools across the country.

The debate over Internet filters has been raging for much of the last decade. Many parents are unaware the public libraries do not provide filters, while librarians argue their role is as information providers, not baby sitters for unmonitored children.

Patrons at area libraries yesterday were often surprised to learn that filters that limit or prevent access to Internet pornography weren’t already in place at public computer stations in libraries.

“We should have it,” said Nan Tiun, 31, outside the Arlington County Central Library on North Quincy Street.

Rob Chapman, also outside the central branch location, agreed.

“This makes sense to me,” said Mr. Chapman, 33.

At the Prince George’s County library branch in Greenbelt, Alexis Yeoman, a University Park resident and mother of two, said keeping pornography out of libraries made sense. “As you see, there’s only one librarian here and she needs assistance. I think restricting funds would give them some kind of incentive.”

“They should have filters,” said Bonnie Shumate, a Hyattsville grandmother.

Washington-area librarians, however, were disappointed by the court ruling.

“For us, this is one of the saddest days in our history. This does not portend well to the people,” said Rita Thompson-Joyner, assistant librarian and director for lifelong learning for D.C. Public Libraries.

Opponents of the 2000 law, including Mrs. Thompson-Joyner, contend the act is a violation of the First Amendment. She said legitimate sites concerning health-related information are blocked by filters, which could prevent access, for example, to information on breast cancer, condoms or even Super Bowl XXX.

“We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We must choose to reject federal funding or put in place filters that are faulty,” said Mrs. Thompson-Joyner.

DCPL receive $1.3 million in annual funding from the federal government, which the facilities would lose if the libraries do not comply with the law.

“We are a law-abiding facility, [but] this is going to be a tough pill to swallow,” she said.

Other librarians were doubtful that the ruling would affect their operations.

“Because of the way we use [government] funding, we do not anticipate having to put filters on the computers we have now,” said Lois Kirkpatrick, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Public Library system.

Kay Ecelbarger, chief of the collections department for the Montgomery County Public Library system, agreed, saying MCPL would wait to see if the federal government asks for changes.

“We will be following any impact that the law might apply to us,” said Ms. Ecelbarger.

Public libraries in the District, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Arlington County and Prince George’s County currently do not provide filters. Montgomery County has at least one computer in each branch with filtered access, but anyone, regardless of age, can also use the unfiltered computers.

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