Naperville libraries among the last to remove content filters

Naperville Public Library staff and patrons, especially local students, should find the district’s computer labs to be more user-friendly next week thanks to a new approach regarding Internet usage.

Beginning Wednesday, Internet filters will be removed from all computers in adult areas of the library; filters will be maintained in the children’s departments, and users will have a choice of which computers to use.

Each of the library’s three branches has offered Internet service on hundreds of computers for 14 years. Executive Director John Spears said during that time, issues regarding the true ability of filters to block obscene material has conflicted with filters and the websites maintained by schools. The software needed to run the library’s public access computers has resulted in an increasing number of problems for both users and library staff, often resulting in denial of access to valid websites.

“The filtering causes lot of problems, so we did a survey and were surprised to learn we are the last library in the area filtering our adult computers. And it’s just as well because the filters provide a false sense of security,” Spears said. “Typically, filters will underblock by failing to block access to content that people think should be blocked and overblock completely legitimate material that we would not want to exclude from searches.”

In some of the more unusual cases, Spears said, the filters were blocking the websites of local schools, prohibiting students from accessing homework and other materials their teachers had posted online.

“Everything from school websites to Yahoo Mail were getting blocked, and we had situations where the computers would freeze up because these sites had been accessed,” Spears said. “Over time, that requires a tremendous amount of staff intervention to figure out why, for example, Neuqua Valley High School’s website is blocked.”

Spears said the library, however, does take the protection of children from obscene or harmful material very seriously and all policies regarding the viewing of obscene materials remain in place.

Some of the labs, he said, have also been reconfigured to give staff a better view of what’s being accessed.

“We will not, however, prohibit anyone from viewing constitutionally protected images,” he said.

The library will also offer three “Internet Safety for Teens, Children, and Parents” programs on Oct. 2 and 4.

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