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Valley library to filter for children

Children's computers in Santa Clara County libraries will filter Net access within three months, the area's library board decides.

Children's computers in libraries in the heart of Silicon Valley will filter Net access within three months, the region's library board has decided, and patrons will be greeted with a warning of what they might encounter online.

Six months after Santa Clara County Library voted unanimously to offer unfettered Internet access, the same board last night decided to shift that position by adding filters to computers in the children's sections of its libraries.

However, the board decided against a recommendation it had been considering to add filters on computers in the adult area.

Board members also emphasized their earlier decision that librarians will not be held responsible for policing Net usage, said county librarian Susan Fuller. "It will be totally the choice of the individual," Fuller said. In other words, children can use the computers with unfettered access located in the adult areas and vice versa.

Fuller added that the library will be adding an opening message at its Web site telling patrons and others about the various parts of the Net, including those they may find offensive.

"I think the board felt they had come to a solution that did respect the concerns of all parties," Fuller said.

Now the librarians will go shopping for filtering programs that will work with the libraries' current systems, which run Windows 3.1. The board asked that the filters be added within three months. Eventually the library plans to switch to Windows NT.

At that point the library may consider other options, Fuller said, including offering patrons their choice for how they want to access the Web. There could be several options: from filters that only block hard-core pornography to those that filter based on other criteria such as violence and sexual information, she said.

Filtering at libraries has become a contentious issue in which civil libertarians have squared off against conservative groups that want to protect children from content they deem to be offensive, including pornography and violence.

Several library filtering policies around the country have been challenged by civil liberties groups, including one involving the Loudoun County Library system in Virginia, where all Net terminals contain blocking software.