Using Your Public Library Internet - Is it Safe?

As homeschooling parents, most of us supplement our children's homeschool curriculum by making wise use of the free resources at the local public library, including the Internet. However, did you know there may be a serious danger lurking in the cubicles of your library's computer section? Yes, you heard right! With unlimited and unfiltered access to electronic information on the Web, your child could be exposed to obscene and sexually explicit websites in many public libraries across the nation. "Wait a minute," you might say. "You're over-reacting. Aren't there laws or filters in place for public Internet use?" Not necessarily. Consider these sobering stories:

Evansdale, (IA) • Most parents don't expect a trip to the public library to be "R-rated," but that's what Kelli Phillips experienced one day when taking her son to the community library. "I took my 4-year-old son to the library, and I was sitting at a table behind the computers. I looked up and saw two men were looking at ... pornographic materials, so I reported it to the librarian," Phillips said.

Bethel Park, (PA) • In early February 2005, a pair of 12-year-old girls sat down at a computer terminal in the Bethel Park Library to review some schoolwork. At the same time, a man sitting next to them viewed nude women in an online chat room.

"There certainly must be laws in place to protect our children now," you might think. Not so. According to a December 17, 2007, publication issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 21 states currently have Internet filtering laws that apply to public schools or libraries. And the majority of these states simply require libraries to adopt Internet use policies to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit, obscene, or harmful materials. That means many states don't have filters, a state law, or even a policy regarding Internet use in their public libraries.

The U.S. Congress did enact the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, giving Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants and E-rate program technology discounts if the public libraries used computer filtering software programs. But, here's the worst part. Many libraries have foregone their federal funding in the name of First Amendment rights. Adopting the official policy statement of the American Library Association (ALA) as listed in Article V of the Library Bill of Rights, some public libraries advocate the unrestricted access of Internet information, including pornography, no matter what a child's age.

What's more, even when a public library does choose to receive LSTA or E-rate funds and uses a software filter on its computers, the CIPA legislation gives an adult library patron the ability to request the filtering program to be disabled at any time in order to have unrestricted access to electronic information. In addition, many Internet filters don't catch everything, and many young people possess the ability to "hack" their way around the filters. With all these loopholes, you begin to grasp the depth of the problem.

So how safe is using the Internet at your public library? Only as safe as your parental responsibility in monitoring what and how your child uses it. Just as you would set parameters for the Internet use in your own home, Christian homeschool parents must also actively monitor their child's Internet use at the public library. Here's some tips for what you can do:
  • Get involved and find out what your library's Internet policy states. Do they receive federal funding and use an Internet filter? Is there a computer section of the library exclusively for children?
  • Teach your child how to escape a website if it becomes locked and continues to pop up inappropriate images on the screen.
  • Instruct your child to move to a different computer and to report a patron who is viewing sexually explicit material.
  • Familiarize yourself with the different Internet filtering options for public libraries and what content they are able to block or not block.
  • Read the Family Research Council report: Dangerous Access, 2000 Edition: Uncovering Internet Pornography in America's Libraries.
Gone are the days of leaving your young child unsupervised at the local public library. Now is the time to wake up and become aware of what your older child may be facing as he researches information on the Internet for homeschool reports and papers. Plus, you also can take action and counteract today's blatant immorality by teaching your child a Christian worldview with biblically-based curriculum like the LIFEPAC® elective, Foundations for Living from Alpha Omega Publications. Most of all, pray and ask for God's guidance as you help your child learn how to responsibly use the Internet for good instead of evil.

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