County library lagging

No filtering computer software installed

Five days have passed since the state mandated that Internet filters be installed on all public library computers, and the Moffat County Library still is not in compliance with the law.

It's a situation the Moffat County commissioners expressed concern about during their meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Les Hampton said a Craig visitor called him to complain that his son had been exposed to pornography while at the Craig library branch.

The man's son had been filling out a college application on a library computer when another library patron sat at a computer next to him and began viewing pornography, Hampton said.

"I can't tell you as a taxpayer in Moffat County, how upset I am (that) equipment paid for with my tax money is being used for this," Hampton said.

But the situation would not have been avoided even if the computers had filtering software installed on them, library Director Donna Watkins said.

The software must be disabled at library patrons' requests, Watkins said. The library staff could not have made him quit looking at the pornography without violating his freedom of speech, she said.

Next week, the new computers will be installed at Moffat County's three libraries. Watkins said she plans to have extra computers installed in the children's library, which will have stringent filtering software installed on them for minors to use.

She plans to request the Library Board of Trustees hire a full-time staff person to work in the children's library.

Currently, if patrons complain that someone else is viewing material they find offensive, Watkins will inform that person that others find the material objectionable.

Usually, the person leaves, but the library staff can't force that to happen.

The Library Board has been scheduling the filters as an item on each monthly meeting agenda, but they have yet to take action on it. But Watkins said she plans to tell board members they need to move on the issue at the next meeting. There is no penalty for not meeting the state mandate.

At a Library Board meeting in November, Watkins said the board had planned to purchase filtering software midway through 2004. But after the state passed its mandate, the price of the software escalated from $7,000 to more than $18,000, out of the library's price range.

The commissioners challenged Watkins' numbers.

Mason Siedschlaw, Moffat County information technology expert, estimated that the library could install filtering software for $40 a computer.

Moreover, at the end of 2004, the Library Board had $271,000 left in its budget.

The commissioners said the amount was enough to purchase the software.

Watkins questioned the quality of the software to which Siedschlaw referred.

Many programs only filter text that indicates offensive material may be on a Web site and allow some offensive images to slip through, she said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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