Fall 2000

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From The Desk Of The Sub-committee Chair Senator Hugh T. Farley: Internet Legislation Takes Moderate Approach

Fall 2000 issue of Trustee

The State Senate and Assembly have passed and sent to the Governor legislation (S.6719/A.9516 Farley/Matusow) which takes a moderate approach to the difficult issue of Internet access in public libraries. The bill requires public libraries which provide public Internet access to establish a policy governing patron use of these computers. If approved by the Governor, these provisions would take effect immediately upon his signing the legislation.

The bill drew relatively little debate, either on the floors of the Senate and the Assembly, or among the general public. It was passed by a vote of 146 to one in the Assembly, and by 58 to one in the Senate. Senator Duane, casting the single negative vote in the Senate, expressed his concern that explicit authority for establishment of local policies might lead to some libraries choosing to impose filtering.

While the legislation is really very simple -- it consists of only two sentences and is only five lines long -- the topic is very complex.

Arguments on all sides of the Internet access issue are passionate and sophisticated. The Internet itself is a "wild and woolly frontier" of information and misinformation, an ultimate test for good information consumers who must constantly question and test the validity of the data and conclusions presented. Internet access from the public library is a critical component in bridging the gap between "information haves" and "information have-nots." It represents, however, a challenge to library patrons who have come to expect the expertise of professional librarians as moderators and guides in the selection and validation of traditional library materials.

Should the Governor sign the bill into law, the State Library's Division of Library Development stands ready to assist local libraries in designing and implement an Internet usage policy. One existing policy, which could be a model in many areas, has been adopted by the Shenendehowa Public Library ( in suburban Saratoga County.

Shenendehowa's policy consists of both general statements and specific conditions of use. Among the former are the statements that: "The Library upholds and affirms the right of each individual to have access to constitutionally protected materials. Thus adult patrons are responsible for proper use of the Internet for themselves and their children," and;

"The Internet sites listed on this website are maintained by others around the world. The Library is not responsible for their content or accuracy. Users of the Internet need to be good information consumers, questioning the validity of the information."

Specific use conditions include the requirement that prospective Internet users read the policy and procedures, accept library staff monitoring "for assistance and security," sign up for limited blocks of computer time on a "first come, first served" basis, refrain from software modification or license violations, and pay for special services such as diskettes and printing. The library does not provide Internet access to e-mail, chat rooms, and Usenet newsgroups.

I think that this legislation provides a fair opportunity for local communities to recognize the benefits as well as the hazards of access to unmoderated information resources, and to help patrons bridge the "information gap" with knowledge and understanding.

(As of this writing, the Governor had not taken final action on the bill. Trustees may wish to monitor the status of this and other legislation by using resources such as the State Senate's web site at

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