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Internet can enhance libraries

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Despite the concerns over content, Utah's libraries need to be supported in their efforts to make the Internet an educational tool for patrons of all ages.

A number of the state's library systems are providing their own gateways or home pages to guide users to those Internet areas providing the most helpful educational information.As with any new program there is also the potential for abuse. The Internet has some sites that contain inappropriate material, particularly for children, and the various library systems and individual libraries are developing policies to address that.

At the library in Brigham City, for example, a blocker called Surf Watch is put on the Internet to restrict access to certain sites. In the Salt Lake County library system parents sign a form stating they're responsible for what their children view on the Internet, and there's no access to e-mail, chat rooms or games on that system's computers. Some libraries have terminals designated specifically for children. These terminals don't offer the same access to sites as those for adults. Others, like Logan's library system, have a separate room for their computers.

Libraries report that the vast majority of their patrons use the computers and the Internet properly. In fact the demand for access has required most systems to put a time limit on use. It varies from 20 minutes to an hour depending on local policy.

Even with the various protective measures, there is potential for abuse of the Internet. Blockers like Surf Watch cannot prevent access to all inappropriate sites. Ongoing vigilance is necessary as technology continues to evolve.

Each system's policies are determined by a library board of directors, made up of people from the community who are appointed by the local governing authority. As such, policies may vary considerably from system to system. The various boards would be wise to communicate with each other, however, to find out what is and what isn't working in regard to Internet policies. Dealing with the Internet will likely be a significant topic for discussion for most library boards.

The real key, particularly regarding children's use of the In-ter-net, is the involvement of parents. Parents need to be aware of the habits of their children regarding this relatively new technology, in the home as well as the library. That, coupled with the efforts of the state's many dedicated librarians, will ensure that the Internet provides a new and rewarding educational experience.