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Resident objects to library computer use
June 12, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Last week, Terrytown resident Michael Onstott said his wife had taken their children to the Gering Public Library to sign up for the summer reading program – and an upsetting incident unfolded.

“My wife was on one of the computers and my son was on another,” Onstott said. “She noticed that another person had come in and was using the computer to watch pornography.”

He said when she notified one of the librarians, she was told they could do nothing about it because he was doing nothing illegal.

“I sent an email to all the council members and the mayor asking what we can do to change this policy because I think it’s ridiculous,” Onstott said. “The only response I got was from the mayor. He apologized it had happened, but the city was following the procedures they had in place.”

On the library computer sign-in screens, obscene material is listed as one of the unacceptable uses. But for several decades, courts have been unable to put a specific definition to “obscene.”

Onstott said the layout of the library’s computers offers no protection for young people and screens are visible to anyone walking by.

“Our written policy is to protect intellectual freedom,” said library director Diane Downer. “Individuals have to take on the responsibility of not looking at someone else’s computer. It’s hard here because of our limited space.”

She added the computers designated for adults are not filtered as to material that can be accessed. “It’s a balancing act,” she said. “We want to protect the users’ rights and not censor. The Internet has some very good information, but it’s also unregulated.

There are some things on there you wouldn’t want your child to see.”

The Gering library follows guidelines set by the National Library Association, which relies on parents to supervise what their children access, but also allows adults unfiltered access to the Internet. Each library board sets its own policy using those guidelines.

Downer said with such a controversial issue, leaning in either direction is a challenge.

“My goal is to get this policy changed,” Onstott said. “We can’t ban pornography, but I want to be able to protect our kids in a public place.”

He said he inquired about Scottsbluff’s library policy for computer usage. “They said their policy basically is a warning the first time, and getting kicked off the computer for a second warning. I don’t know why Gering is being so lax on it. If they’re going to be a child and family friendly library like they say, you can’t have it both ways.”

Onstott made a brief appearance at Monday’s city council meeting, asking how to get on the agenda to discuss changing the library’s policy. If he fills out the necessary paperwork, the council could consider the issue at its next meeting on June 24.

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