Most of the media reports on the San Antonio Public Library's expanded obscenity-monitoring capabilities are wrong, says SAPL's Jennifer Velasquez.
"The software isn't monitoring what people are looking at," she told the Current by phone this morning. Nor does it reflect a change in the library's policy. "What we do is we ask users to be responsible users, and by `that` we mean we're asking them not to violate that Texas penal-code thing ... it says it's not legal to display obscene material."
We'll talk about that penal-code thing `S. 43.24 in the Criminal Code` later, but the library's been enforcing it through visual oversight and verbal intervention. If a staff members sees a computer user displaying screen images that would seem to violate the code, they approach the user and ask them to close the page. PC Cop, says Velasquez, gives them additional tools to manage those awkward confrontations, including the ability to send an onscreen message to a specific computer terminal, the ability to terminate the session if the user doesn't comply, and for repeat offenders or obstreperous surfers, the ability to block a library-card number so that it can't be used to log onto library computers at any branch (those card numbers can still be used to check out books, however).
Neither the software nor the library's digital-records department tie user sessions to individual information, says Velasquez. For instance, during a recent review of all the websites visited from public-library terminals during specific use periods, the library was able to tell that fewer than .25 percent of sites visited were classified as "adult," but not the patrons or branches that accessed those sites. (The City keeps those website-traffic records for 30 days, added Velasquez).
Visual oversight, by staff and other library patrons, is the only way potential offenders are identified, says Velasquez, an arguably superior alternative to filtering software, which immediately raises a host of First Amendment problems, and she says, has a 60-percent failure rate for images.
Perhaps most importantly, Velasquez says the library is willing to make exceptions for patrons who are conducting serious research or other non-prurient uses of material that may nonetheless offend some other library users.
So is this the best solution? The criminal code puts the library between a rock and a hard place -- and I do have to wonder once again whether we're not talking about a problem that's best addressed by parents and caregivers rather than the Nanny State.