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Explicit image seen at Oconomowoc library raises questions

Jan. 30, 2013

We bring our children to the library for story times, Lego clubs, therapy dogs, movie nights and reading challenges. But not to view explicit materials.

Last week, however, there was an incident at Oconomowoc Public Library where a father and his daughter passed by a computer, where another man was viewing explicit material involving nudity.

A librarian asked the man to leave.

"As a parent myself, I know how disturbing this is," said Oconomowoc Library Director Ray McKenna.

Since then, the father has submitted a public complaint, and Alderman Rich Allen has contacted the Oconomowoc Public Library.

"We take this situation very seriously. What we have, we think, has worked well so far, but that's not to say it isn't time to review it," McKenna said.

Currently, the Oconomowoc library has five computer terminals, which are near the reference librarian. There are no filters on their browsers, but users do have to agree to a two- to three-page user agreement.

Similarly, only adults can sign into a computer. Children younger than 18 must have a parent log in for them.

"We monitor that visually, and if people are on what we call an inappropriate website, we tell them to stop what they're doing or leave," McKenna said.

McKenna said that warnings usually work, but if they don't the viewer is asked to leave. If they return and continue to look at inappropriate materials, their library privileges can be revoked for a period of time or they could be permanently banned. McKenna said this has only happened once.

"This is our first public complaint in 12 years," he explained.

Regardless, McKenna is in what he calls a fact-finding phase. He's seeking all of the involved parties for specific information around the incident.

He's contacted other libraries to learn what they're doing, something he describes as a mixed bag. Some have filters and some don't. Others have filters, but not on their wireless networks. Some have privacy screens around the terminal. Some take a philosophical point of view and avoid limiting access to information.

"What I have heard about it, and the question that we keep asking, is does a filter prevent a legitimate search for someone's legitimate research needs?" McKenna said.

The Pewaukee Public Library, for example, has had a filter since 2005. Pewaukee Library Director Jennie Stoltz explained that because they have filters, children younger than 18 can access the computers more easily. When parents opt out of permission slips, they are no longer needed to sign on when their children want to use the Internet for homework.

"No filter is perfect," Stoltz said, "and some libraries will choose not to filter because it may block, say, someone who is requesting information about breast cancer."

Christine Cramer at the Delafield Public Library, which uses the same Sonic Wall filter as Pewaukee, explained that some of the blocks can be overridden by a librarian on an individual basis for legitimate needs. Cramer is also aware of filter loopholes, though, and said that patrons can still find ways to view inappropriate content. "As a library, we don't want to be known as a place where people come in and look at porn or a place that you don't want to take your kids … As a parent, I don't want to be known for that. So we're taking it very seriously," McKenna said.

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Weekend Happenings

Featured this week:  

Spring Seedling Sale & Greenhouse Open House: 10 a.m. May 23, NuGenesis Farm, N68 W33208 County Road K, Oconomowoc. A variety of organic veggie and herb seedlings to plant in your home or community garden this spring will be for sale. All plant sale profits will benefit the Giving Garden initiative.

Memorial Honor Celebration: 8 a.m. May 23, Wisconsin Harley-Davidson, 1280 Blue Ribbon Drive, Oconomowoc. Daylong event begins with reveille and breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by color guard and the national anthem. The event also includes military and veterans organizations, interactive displays and vehicles, food and beverages and entertainment. Evening showing of “Honor Flight: One Last Mission.” on a big, outdoor screen.

"Small Space Container Gardens" Seminar: 11 a.m. May 23, Ebert’s Greenhouse Village, W1795 Fox Road, Ixonia. Free educational seminar by gardening expert Melinda Myers. Melinda, who will also be available to answer gardening questions. Enter to win a $500 Ebert’s shopping spree with Melinda.

Tyke Hike: 10 a.m. May 23, Lapham Peak State Park, W329 N846, Delafield. Children and their families will hike with a guide and a representative of the Delafield Library will share books, songs and a craft to enhance the experience. Meet at the Lapham Peak Tower. State park sticker is required.

Updates to this calendar are made weekly Monday afternoon. 

 

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