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Child Safety

July 14, 2003

During a random few minutes of movie dialog, I caught this reference to a Joni Mitchell song: “Oh I wish I had a river / I could skate away on.”

As a child, it was a dream of mine to have rivers to skate on. I thought it would be the coolest thing to don skates and head off to school, the grocer, the next town.

Necessarily, I imagined somewhere like Holland rather than New York City, which more closely fit the song’s next line: “But it don’t snow here.” It snowed, but the rivers didn’t freeze.

A pond we played hockey on stayed thin at the far end where it spilled into a creek. A slapshot wide of the goal could miss the berm of snow we’d made and slide all the way across the pond onto thin, clear ice. If you shot it, you got it. I’m sure our parents would have been thrilled.

Other risks to youth at the time included city buses, which were often overcrowded with students after school. A young boy was crushed under a bus just a few feet in front of me after getting his foot stuck in the door, prompting stricter rules and more safety mirrors.

On TV, we saw public service announcements about public health issues, and a big one was pica and lead paint. I thought pica was something caused by lead, but it’s a juvenile eating disorder — a propensity for consuming inedible stuff, lead being a bad one.

Pica happened to stick in my mind when I first saw the acronym CIPA. CIPA is the Children’s Internet Protection Act passed by Congress to require the use of filtering or blocking technology to solve the problem of children’s access to inappropriate pictures on the Internet.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that First Amendment rights were not violated by the law because of the provision that the filters be disabled upon request.

Basically, the law makes filtered Internet the default condition for libraries accepting federal help with Internet access. Patrons then must ask librarians to disable the filters.

This is not the relationship that many librarians want with their patrons. In the last century, Englewood Public Library bought an automated technological solution — a $108,000 smart card system allowing user choice of access levels and thus bypassing librarian mediation.

The irony was that virtually everyone who registered chose unrestricted access for themselves and their children, rendering the system a bit pointless.

Although I think CIPA is a bad law for several reasons, the general sentiment behind it is not. Of course everyone wants children to be “safe.” We usually ensure that through education, such as driver education, or learning to look both ways before crossing the street. Technique as opposed to technology.

Personally, I would trade CIPA for a law that requires technology on every car driven by a minor so that acceleration is cut in half and speed can’t exceed 35 mph. Now we’re talking safety.

The Salida Regional Library provides unfiltered Internet access. We also expect civil behavior from our library users of all ages, and we get it. We have a rule that states that sexually explicit images shall not be displayed. We’ve had very few problems.

Salida Regional Library has not accepted federal funds for Internet access, although we had planned to start, to offset the cost of better Internet access. So, we will be revisiting the issue in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

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