Spring 2008

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Censorship or Freedom of Inquiry?

Spring 2008 issue of Trustee

Child-porn suspect’s home raided; Mahopac library to review Web policies
Barbara Livingston Nackman 

This was a headline in the January 17 issue of the Journal News, about a Putnam County Library. Here is a condensed version of the story, as reported.

MAHOPAC - Carmel police have seized unspecified items from the home of a  Southeast man charged with downloading child pornography from a computer at  the Mahopac Public Library. 

The suspect is charged with two  felonies. He is accused of downloading images of photos showing children, said  Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy. He’d been viewing child-porn at the library for a year and a half, police  said. 

The library, meanwhile, is fast-tracking plans to update its Internet policy  and has formed a Community Task Force  that will include Library Director Patricia Kaufman, Carmel police, library board members,  and representatives from the Mahopac school district and the county Youth Bureau.  on Internet Use. The group will  consider Internet filters and review current policies and procedures, said  library Director Patricia Kaufman. 

Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt, a 26-year Carmel police veteran, said he was  pleased with the library’s immediate cooperation. 

More libraries are installing filters to prevent patrons’ inappropriate and  illegal use of computers, said Rick Schatz, president of the National  Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, which is focused on  curbing access to pornography at libraries. 

“This is what happens,” he said. “The idea that closely monitoring a  computer is enough is obviously a joke,” referring to libraries having staff  members visually monitor computer use.

Open access to material and Internet services has been the subject of  library discussions across the nation, and at the center of a 2003  U.S. Supreme Court case. Library officials this week emphasized that the  Mahopac suspect was caught at the library, and that child pornography is  illegal and not a function of library services. 

The Mahopac library board has opposed filters up to now, saying they would  block some valuable information and slow computer operation. They are reconsidering that stance, officials said.  “I would ask the community to be mindful that, throughout the country,  libraries are faced with how to balance providing information the community  needs and wants with how to protect the public,” said board president Alice Walsh.  

Most local libraries have chosen not to have filters. In Greenburgh, the  debate resulted in installing filters on some children’s and young adult  computers, but not in the adult sections. 

“There are a lot of people who feel that filters are censorship,” said its  director, Eugenie Contrata. “But libraries are a limited public forum, and  we do have an obligation to provide an option and age-appropriate aterials. I commend the Mahopac library for having the courage to open the discussion  and tighten up fast.”

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