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Complaints could threaten library funds

LAWRENCEVILLE - A complaint about pornography on Gwinnett County Public Library computers may jeopardize the system's funding.

Ruth Hardy, who spoke to the library board last month about witnessing people viewing graphic images in front of children, also filed a complaint with Universal Service Administrative Company. The company distributes federal funds for Internet access and telecommunications to schools and libraries.

Hardy said she was contacted by a representative last week. She recounted her experiences and was told the company is conducting an investigation.

Eric Iverson, director of external relations for USAC, said the company does not comment on whether or not an investigation is being conducted.

While Deputy Director Rhonda Boyd said she had not heard of an investigation, she said she believes the county's funding is safe.

Federal regulations to have a filter on computers, to have an Internet safety policy and a public meeting to discuss issues were met years ago, she said.

"This is something that is concerning, if we are under investigation," Boyd said, adding that she spoke to lawyers Friday who once again verified the system's compliance with the law. "It's something that could be cleared up very quickly."

At the request of the library board, staffers are considering other options to protect citizens, and computers with Internet access have been removed from the children's sections of all library branches, Boyd said.

"I'm confident there will be no findings against the library," Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said. "We're always careful and respectful to our funding sources in remaining in compliance."

In 2007, the public library system received $21,852 for Internet access and $168,369.70 for telecommunication services.

In 2006, the system received a total of $160,885.27, but Boyd said the actual expenses for fiscal year 2007 (which is where the money was allocated) was $315,461. The reimbursement, which pays for data/circuit lines, local phone service and Internet access, is based on the number of children in local school systems eligible for free and reduced lunch, Boyd said.

Hardy said she hopes the scrutiny gives library staffers the initiative to improve its filters and policies.

"I don't want the county to lose money, but I'd like them to be compliant with the law," she said. "That's the whole point of being able to protect children."