A Library's fine line on Web use

Moffat County libraries adjust for Internet access

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The staff at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries has been facing an increasingly belligerent number of clients, upset by blocked access to Web sites and rules governing computer use.

As more people use the library as their source for Internet access, more issues arise between users and an increasingly busy staff, library officials said.

Library staff was forced to call the Craig Police Department three times last month for problems with Internet users, said Donna Watkins, Moffat County Libraries Director. Some browsers just refuse to get off the Internet when closing time arrives.

"We're trying to close down and it takes time to shut the doors, lock-up and check the bathrooms," she said. "We've had to call the police for a 'walk-through' just to get people to leave the computers."

Recent busts by the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotic Enforcement Team task force resulted in the publication of a dozen mug shots of those arrested, many faces that are very familiar to library staff.

A number of the group arrested for breaking into Craig businesses and then being arrested after a shootout with police in Wyoming are also known to the staff at the Craig library.

In both cases, the arrested individuals had spent a number of hours using the library computers to surf the Internet.

Watkins said that some library users are there because they have been run out of other places in town, and the library has taken steps to keep activities out in the open at the Craig branch.

"I have had the stall doors in the men's room removed," Watkins said "What the staff has to go through has played a roll in turnover here at the library."

Times have changed since the days of checking out books. Staff at the library also has to deal with the uninformed and sometimes the upset, thanks to the Internet.

"We have had people angry at us because we don't know their password or screen name for their e-mail account," Watkins said. "Sometimes 50 percent or more of the staff's time involves dealing with Internet issues."

Watkins points out that library staff is empowered to assist patrons with Internet problems, but they are not paid to train people on how to use the Internet.

People visiting the library should have a basic knowledge in opening files and attachments, and how to use e-mail systems before visiting the library.

The Craig library has been a source of access to the Internet for nearly 15 years, and a number of changes have been adapted to control what people are allowed to access.

In 2004, the state legislature passed a bill limiting access to unfiltered Internet sites by people under 17 years old.

As the library's 14 computers cannot be isolated from people walking by, or youngsters accessing specific sites, a decision was made to block a number of sites on the Web to all of the computers at the Craig branch.

Pornographic or mature Web sites, dating services, chat-rooms, methamphetamine and criminal activity related sites are all blocked in computers at the Craig library.

Exceptions are made in some cases for medical or religious sites that hold discussions such as cancer support groups and Bible study youth groups, but staff must first be contacted to unblock those sites.

EBay can be accessed on the library computers, but searching for certain items will cause the blockers to take effect.

The other side of the coin, Watkins says, is that the library tries to be an equalizer for all socio-economic classes of people in America. They do not check US citizenship or have residency requirements before allowing access to computers.

"All libraries must be responsive to the community they serve. For people that can't afford computers or Internet access," Watkins said. "We also are sensitive to methamphetamine and homeland security issues in Craig."

While they feel that any censorship is wrong, their budget won't allow them to build segregated rooms for younger, limited access viewers.

Watkins estimates that nearly one quarter of all library visitors are using the computers for Internet access, and that number increases on weekends.

Watkins said most Internet use at the library is people checking e-mail, or booking vacation travel plans, and one-third of users are from people that live outside of the county.

She warns that if out of state users begin to overtake local users, the library board may have to consider fees for using the library's computers.

Internet use is currently limited to one hour, if patrons are waiting for computer time.

A government issued identification is needed to use the library computer. Passports, driver's license or military identification with a photo works best.

Children under 17 need a parent's signature on the back of their library card to access the Internet, and there are three children's computers that have no Internet access.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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