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Lebanon libraries decline to block online content

  • The Lebanon Public Library on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Lebanon, N.H. Library officials are discussing a potential library renovation. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2019 10:27:33 PM
Modified: 10/21/2019 1:37:41 PM

LEBANON — Library officials have declined to install internet content filters on Lebanon’s library computers, saying such programs don’t adequately protect children from inappropriate websites.

The decision came after a task force was formed following concerns that two middle-school students may have gone to a pornographic website on a Lebanon Public Library computer.

While librarians want to keep children from viewing pornography or disturbing images, there’s no magic fix to wholly prevent it, said Amy Lappin, deputy director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

Instead, she said, software offered to libraries and schools is far from flawless, contains workarounds and could create problems for patrons seeking to access even innocuous websites.

“There certainly are filters out there. The problem is that they are expensive and don’t work,” Lappin said in an interview last week.

Lappin chaired the task force that earlier this year looked at the efficacy of online content filters and explored whether Lebanon should purchase filtering software.

Over several meetings, the group of librarians and trustees found the software either “under blocks” content or is too stringent, she said.

Filtering software ranges from $125 to $333 a month, and could pose varying problems for library patrons, according to the task force’s meeting minutes.

Some programs would direct all internet traffic to their servers, putting patron’s privacy at risk, and others would block people from accessing the library’s Wi-Fi on their own devices, Lebanon’s librarians found.

“It makes people feel good for a little bit but then it doesn’t work and we’re spending a lot of taxpayers’ dollars (on software),” Lappin said.

However, she said, the library does intend to “up our education game” and will be providing an event on internet security for parents next month.

The group’s decision dismayed Jim Vanier, who last year brought forward concerns about children misusing library computers.

Vanier, youth center coordinator for the Carter Community Building Association, told librarians he overheard two middle school-age students talk about accessing pornography on a computer at the library in downtown Lebanon. However, the students later denied any wrongdoing when he followed up.

Vanier last week said there must be something more that librarians can do and suggested filtering only those computers to be used by children.

“Every person I talk to just says ‘We can’t believe there not some type of filter that can block access,’ ” he said. “You can do it at home.”

Lebanon nurse Ann Marchewka, who heard about the incident from Vanier, was also worried that children could be pressured by friends to access inappropriate websites at the libraries.

“It’s a public library and so children go there,” she said in a phone interview last week.

Although a federal law known as the Children’s Internet Protection Act requires libraries and schools that receive federal aid to install content filters, Lebanon isn’t subject to the mandate because it doesn’t take federal money, according to Library Director Sean Fleming.

“Does that mean that filters are more effective? No it doesn’t,” he said of the law last week. “As a steward of taxpayer funds, I don’t want to use funds in a way that would be ineffective in addressing the concerns the community may have.”

Lebanon’s libraries have an internet policy that forbids “disruptive or inappropriate behavior,” which includes the display of obscene or objectionable material.

Fleming said librarians have had to tell patrons they’re in violation of the policy, but said most of those offenders were older adults. He added that no libraries he knows of regulate computer use with a filter.

None of the seven libraries queried by the task force use filtering software, although some do restrict children’s access to library computers.

For example, the Baker Free Library in Bow, N.H., requires children under 12 to be accompanied by a parent while using public computers, and those under 18 need a permission slip signed by a guardian to be left unsupervised, according to meeting minutes.

The Hooksett (N.H.) Public Library also asks a parent to be present with children under 8, while the Howe Library and Concord Public Library have computers set aside specifically for children.

Of the seven libraries, only two reported problems with people using library computers to access inappropriate content.

Norwich Library Director Lucinda Walker told the task force she has received just one complaint, while Concord Assistant Library Director Matt Bose said several people have been banned from that city’s computers over inappropriate use, according to meeting minutes.

Lebanon’s libraries encourage guardians to supervise their children’s computer use, and officials say it’s a parent or guardian’s responsibility to restrict what youngsters can see or do online.

Officials also ask that children under 8 be supervised at the libraries by a caregiver.

“The task force went in with an open mind,” said Lappin, the deputy library director. “The bottom line is: We don’t want anybody looking at porn in our libraries.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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