Loudoun Co. libraries adopt new Internet policy to meet judge’s concerns

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

The Loudoun County (Va.) Public Library Board of Trustees agreed last night on a new policy that will allow adults unfiltered access to the Internet while letting parents request that their children have only filtered Internet access or none at all.

The 6-2 board vote is designed to address concerns raised last month by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Brinkema’s Nov. 23 ruling held that Loudoun County’s previous policy, which equipped all branch library computers with filters to screen out sexually explicit material, violated free speech rights and served no compelling government interest.

Since that ruling, which was hailed by filtering opponents, the library computers in Loudoun County have been cut off from Internet access.

Linda Holtslander, the library’s systemwide service manager, said the new policy was being put into place by library staff members today. Internet access under the new rules will be available when the county’s six branch libraries open tomorrow, she said.

Under the new policy, adult customers can select whether they want filtered or unfiltered access to the Internet. They will have to sign a special adult-use agreement before they can surf the Net.

For minor children, a parent or legal guardian must sign a use agreement giving permission for the child to use the Internet. If that permission is granted, the parent or guardian must then decide whether the minor child’s use of the Internet will be filtered or unfiltered. An agreement without a decision on filtering will not be valid, library officials said.

Holtslander said the library trustees also agreed to install privacy screens on computers that have Internet access so that only an individual sitting directly in front of the screen can see it. She said this move was made because some county residents said they feared their children would be inadvertently exposed to pornography when passing by a library computer.

For parents who may want to sit next to their child to work on the computer together, the board also agreed to make the privacy screens removable, Holtslander said.

“We think it’s an excellent policy and should address everyone’s concerns,” Jeri McGiverin, president of Mainstream Loudoun, the group that challenged the county’s blanket filtering policy, told a Washington-area television station after the vote.

Holtslander said that because library branches have only a few Net-connected terminals, anyone wishing to use them must sign up for a specific time. Doing so will help enforce the policy, she said, in that library staff will be able to check each user’s card to see whether to turn the filtering software on or off before that person logs on to the computer.

“You can’t come in and just sit down. You need to sign up because this is a very popular service,” Holtslander said. “And because the service is used continually, you don’t have a lot of time to fiddle around.”

The library board also voted 7-1 to preserve its option to appeal Brinkema’s ruling.

Ken Bass, the library board’s lawyer, said there were
still some “open issues” in the litigation with respect to attorneys’ fees. The board also wanted to see how the new policy would be accepted by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, he said, before ruling out an appeal.

“It would be premature to say there will be no appeal,” Bass said.