The Ottawa public library says it will be updating its policies after two children were exposed to pornography at one of its local branches this summer.
The two girls, ages 11 and 13, were at the Greenboro branch with their mother, Jennifer St. Pierre, in July when they witnessed a man accessing hard-core pornography on a public computer.
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The library’s response to the incident generated significant controversy after it was revealed that the man had technically broken no rules and that the library considered him to be within his rights to view the online material.
On Tuesday, library spokesperson Anna Basile confirmed that this approach will change following the public outcry and that users may now be asked by staff to shut off potentially offensive content.
To support that, a new line will be added to the library’s network access policy requiring customers to “refrain from displaying content (text or images) that may reasonably be considered offensive to others in a public setting.” The old policy simply said they must “respect the sensibilities of others.”
Enforcement will be based on complaints from other patrons, but not ongoing monitoring by staff.
“Our practice will be to ask people to turn it off or shut it down,” Basile said in an emailed statement. “Libraries are community hubs and our customers matter to us; we want them to be comfortable in our spaces.”
Ottawa’s libraries already have firewalls to block illegal content like child pornography and security threats to their systems, she added, and those will remain in place. But no new filters or firewalls will be added to specifically block pornographic content. Other libraries across Canada take a similar approach.
But new filters were one of the things that St. Pierre had suggested would be appropriate to avoid a repeat of what happened to her family. She also suggested the library create an alcove or more private area if it insisted on allowing people to view adult material in a public space.