I work occasionally as a fill-in librarian at a local public library that serves a community of about 5,000 people. This is the community I am moving to next month, up the road from where I live now, and while technically it puts me out of the “rural” designation, it’s still pretty rural. Last week and the week before there was a horrible tragedy that rocked the whole community. Short form: a local girl Brooke Bennett, went missing and her body was discovered a few days ago. The most likely suspect at this point is an uncle who is on the state sex offender list.
First off let me say that I’m quoting from news stories only. Our official staff position is “no comment” and I’m sticking to that. Here is why this is a library issue.
- The initial reports, when the girl was simply missing, was that she had met a sexual predator online via her MySpace page. That garnered the predictable media outcry as well as some very good stories about safety online.
- It also resulted in law enforcement coming to the library to take the public PCs. You can read the library director’s statements about this in this article in the Burlington Free Press. The librarians waited for a court order, and gave the computers to the police once they received one. The computers have since been returned. The library had an internet policy in place to guide their actions in this situation.
- As more details emerged it became clear that the MySpace angle was not just untrue, it was the opposite of what people had thought. The person who abducted Brooke had actually logged in to her MySpace page to try to create a fake scenario where she was meeting a “predator” when in reality she was meeting him. IP addresses from these interactions were given to law enforcement by MySpace and were, as near as I can tell, instrumental in helping them determine the sequence of events of this crime and narrow down the suspect list considerably. The older articles still reflect the “internet predator” angle when, like most abductions, the criminal was someone from the victim’s own family.
- And as far as data goes, danah boyd has a very good article about MySpace when DOPA was more on the table in 2006. One of her useful facts “Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace. Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services.”
- The accused man is being charged, as of this writing, with kidnaping. This is because kidnaping at a federal level carries a possible death penalty sentence and is, I assume, a bargaining chip. The law regarding this is one that I wasn’t totally aware of “the 2006 Adam Walsh law — named for another abducted child — allowed federal prosecution of such crimes when they are facilitated by the Internet.” Worth knowing for any of us who provide Internet access to the public, I think.
- The library has set up a book display dealing with this very difficult topic — books on MySpace, the death of a child, dealing with grief — and encouraging conversations.
So, this is all incredibly upsetting and destabilizing to the community here. While I hope that you never have to deal with something like this at your library, there may be some instructive or useful pieces of information here that I felt might be worthwhile to pass on.
The EFF has just reported that the gag order provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act concerning National Security Letters are unconstitutional. This is NOT the Connecticut case, but a related one concerning the records of an internet service provider. Here is more explanation from the ACLU and a link to the decision (pdf). The decision claims this gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act is unconstituional because “it does not afford adequate procedural safeguardd, and because it is not a sufficiently narrowly tailored restriction on protected speech.”
Please remember, librarians and teachers, that the less you inform and educate yourself about online communities like MySpace, the more you’ll have to take people’s words for the risks they may or may not involve. Now that people are looking into legislation potentially filtering sites like MySpace in schools and libraries (places that already have a high degree of filtering, so I’m not sure I totally get this) it’s a good time to inform yourself if you haven’t already.
Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has just introduced new legislation that would regulate the availability of sites like MySpace at schools and public libraries, claiming that “this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm.”
State bill HB 2158 did not go to the state Senate. It passed in the House and the Senate did decide to hold a hearing on it. This is the bill to deny state funding to libraries that did not comply with a directive to restrict access to books with sexually explicit passages and homosexual themes to “adults only”. More information about Oklahoma libraries can be found on the librarystories blog and more generally at the Oklahoma Library Association website. Also, check out all these other Oklahoma library blogs (taken from the librarystories’ sidebar).
Adventures of a curious mind
Bartlesville Public Library blog
Karl the YoYo Librarian
Law Librarian Blog
McAlester Public Library
Oklahoma Library Tech News
Oklahoma Writing Project
SWOSU Library Blog
Western Plains Libraries
I spoke to a librarian at a rural library today. She works ten hours a week — well she’s paid for ten and works many more. The library has one computer, and that computer has dial-up access. Her board is considering getting her a second computer, so that she can do her work while the library is open and patrons are using the other one. She has also been talking to them about possibly getting broadband access. She and I discussed creating a web page for the library, maybe thinking about wireless in the longer-term future. Money is tight, as you can imagine. When I mentioned thinking about E-rate assistance for connectivity, she wasn’t enthusiastic. I’m not sure if this is because of CIPA or other reasons, but we’re looking into alternatives.
Vermont is not one of the states that has its own filtering laws in addition to the laws laid down by CIPA. What I did not know was that twenty-one states have filtering laws that apply to schools and/or libraries. Some of these just require libraries to have an Internet use policy concerning public/patron use of the Internet, but many go much farther than that. The Utah code, for example:
Prohibits a public library from receiving state funds unless the library implements and enforces measures to filter Internet access to certain types of images; allows a public library to block materials that are not specified in this bill; and allows a public library to disable a filter under certain circumstances. Requires local school boards to adopt and enforce a policy to restrict access to Internet or online sites that contain obscene material.
The National Council on State Legislatures has a page outlining all these state laws with links to the actual state legislation: Children and the Internet: Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries