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Libraries considering privacy screens for computer searches

LAWRENCEVILLE - An Internet search in the public library won't be as much of a public affair, under a new policy approved by the library board Monday.

The system, which has 14 branches in Gwinnett, is testing the use of privacy screens to keep the content of a Web search less exposed, officials said.

Web filters at the branches do not allow pornographic or obscene sites, but customers occasionally complain about some material they spot when they pass by a computer, said Deputy Director Rhonda Boyd.

Often, these sites are clothing catalogues or calendars that are legal but may be something patrons don't want their children to see.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the Children's Internet Protection Act determined that some materials can be blocked, but a system must be sure to allow legal materials to be viewed, Boyd said.

"We're walking a line here, trying to do the best job we can for our community," she said.

While the policy was adopted Monday, officials are still experimenting to determine the best type of screen or visor to place on computer terminals.

This would also help in protecting people who use the library's computers for business or financial transactions from identity theft, Boyd noted.

"This is probably the most difficult issue we have to deal with," Board Chairman Lloyd Breck said. "What you've come up with is the best we can do. There are going to be people who say this isn't enough, and there are going to be people who say this goes too far. But we have to be respectful of the rights of all our customers."

In addition to the screens, officials have repositioned computers so that materials can't be seen by people walking through the library.

"It's an emotional issue, but we have to go within the parameters of the law," Board Vice-Chairwoman Phyllis Oxendine said.