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Pupils view porn in libraries

LIBRARIANS have admitted that school children can access porn on the Internet at their local library after youngsters were discovered downloading "offensive" images in Cambridgeshire.

The librarians admit that filtering software, designed to block undesirable sites, is failing to keep pace with the growth of the worldwide web. Ministers have pushed for pupils to have Internet access at libraries so that those whose parents cannot afford a computer at home don't miss out.

However, the Library Association is to argue against excessive filtering because it can amount to censorship.

Three children were reported in Ely public library, Cambridgeshire, after "offensive" images were spotted on a computer screen.

Chris Heaton, assistant head of libraries and information, said the youngsters had downloaded images from an erotic photography site, which has now been added to the list of "blocked" sites not accessible from public computer terminals.

Cambridgeshire's libraries have a filtering system, which blocks categories of sites, including those listed as pornographic or adult entertainment. Similar sites with inoffensive names may not be picked up by the software.

Mr Heaton added: "None of the filtering software can be 100 per cent (safe) because the web is canging by the hour."

Dianne Southcombe, executive chair of the 3,500-strong School Library Association, believes schools are much more clued up about the issue.

The Government is committed to connecting all schools and libraries to the Internet by 2002, and last year announced pound;270 million of lottery money to link libraries to the National Grid for Learning. So far, around 41 per cent of library computer terminals are web-connected, as are more than two-thirds of schools.

Meanwhile, the Library Association is investigating the use of filtering software. Guy Daines, principal policy adviser, said: "This is a problem we are still grappling with. We are coming out against the use of filtering, on a professional basis. The main role of libraries is to promote and provide access to sites. Filtering prohibits access to good sites as well as bad."

He cited the example of sites mentioning "Middlesex" being blocked because "sex" features in the county's name. But he conceded the debate was slightly different when it comes to children's access to the Internet.

Some libraries, for example in Hertfordshire, Newcastle and Kent, children can only surf the net with parental consent and library technicians check how the machines are being used.

FE Focus, I

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