The Ottawa Public Library responds to my letter

March 11, 2015

By Lea Z. Singh |

Yesterday morning, the Board of the Ottawa Public Library responded to my complaint. I am very happy that they responded quickly and that they are taking my complaint seriously. Below is the full text of their letter, followed by my response. Notice that the current chair of the library board is Ottawa Coun. Timothy Tierney:

Sent on behalf of Ottawa Public Library Board Chair, Tim Tierney
CC: Timothy Tierney, Jan Harder, Danielle McDonald (CEO)
Ms. Singh,
On behalf of the Ottawa Public Library Board, please accept our apologies for your recent experience at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and thank you for bringing it to our attention. We assure you that we support a safe and welcoming public library environment. We care about our customers and we have in place a number of policies that ensure that the library is a safe place for anyone to visit, including children and families.
In reviewing your email below, as well as your accounts of the incident which occurred, there are a few key points to highlight. Please know that this incident is currently under review, and that your experience is not consistent with our expected practice. In fact, the Ottawa Public Library employs a multi-faceted approach to ensure a safe environment: prevention, vigilance, and action.
The Ottawa Public Library provides public Internet access as a core service offering. All internet traffic is filtered on six categories, one of which is child pornography. In addition, we offer the choice of filtered and unfiltered access on our wired network for adult customers. For children and teens, the default access linked to their cards is filtered. To take it one step further, public internet computers in the children and teen sections offer only filtered access. A parent/guardian may request unfiltered access for their children, but this can only be accessed on computers outside the children/teen areas.
Our filters are in place to ensure that the library is a safe space for anyone to visit without fear of being exposed to material commonly held to be offensive. In fact, in a recent third-party review of our practices, OPL uses more filters than most libraries in Canada. Having said that, we have no technical control over content accessed by customers on personal devices.
When accessing OPL wifi or public computers, customers must abide by the Public Network Access Policy, which includes:
  • Being aware that use of the internet for illegal purposes is prohibited and may result in prosecution. (e.g. child pornography for which we filter – other libraries do not). 
  • Respect the sensibilities of others when accessing sites that may be reasonably considered offensive to others. 
Staff are trained to maintain awareness of the activities occurring in the branch at all times. This is a proactive approach to ensuring both safety and security of staff and customers. In addition, we have been moving to a new service model, where staff are expected to be continuously moving through the facility to monitor activity and support customers.
When an issue does occur, be it on a public computer or a personal device, our employees are trained to be alert and use the authority they are given to address the matter. The Library has a number of policies in place, which when applied together, help ensure that we continue to offer a safe environment. Employees are required to address promptly all situations when customers consider content being viewed in the library as offensive, whether on public pcs, mobile devices, personal laptops, etc., and are provided with a variety of methods to do so. Our staff try to work with all customers and should the customer not comply with the direction of employees, they are advised that they are at risk of losing library privileges. The branch manager and the Division Manager (who oversees all the branches) have authority to issue evictions and bans (lifetime) to any customer who does not follow OPL policies.
Again, on behalf of the Board, we thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. While we understand the initial response you received was not to our expectations, we appreciate the opportunity to clarify and improve.
Here is my response, which I sent out last night:
Mr. Tierney,
Thank you for your prompt response to my complaint. I am happy to hear that you are taking this matter seriously, that you are investigating the incident that I described, and that this incident is not reflective of your library policies. I would very much appreciate if I could be informed of the results of your investigation. 
Thank you also for informing me about the multi-faceted approach that the library adopts to maintain the safety and security of its staff and customers. It is greatly comforting to know that children and teens have stricter filter settings than adults, and that the library filters out child pornography for all customers.
However, what I read in your response is that all pornography other than child pornography is indeed available to adults on library computers, since as you say, the library offer adults the choice of "unfiltered access". 
I would appreciate if you could clarify this further. Does this mean that adults could potentially use library computers to access both "soft core" and "hard core" pornography, including the myriad deeply disturbing and violent forms of pornography such as bestiality, sadist and masochist pornography, and so on?
From your response, I understand that it is the responsibility of librarians to maintain vigilance and patrol the library. I also understand that if librarians notice a person viewing this kind of offensive material on a library computer, they may suggest that the person relocate to a more "discreet" location (as the librarian told me during the incident), or perhaps insist on relocating the person, or even expel them from the library.
What concerns me as a parent however, is this: what happens when no librarian notices that an adult is viewing this kind of material? It is unrealistic to expect perfect surveillance with no lapses, since librarians can't possibly monitor all computers in the adult section all the time. Children and teens walk freely around the library, and they also walk past the computers in the adult sections of the library. They could easily catch sight of computer screens displaying highly offensive and disturbing content, and they may not report it to any adult or librarian. 
In fact, this is exactly what happened at Ruth E. Dickinson on March 5th, though the person who caught sight of this content was (fortunately) not a child but another adult, who promptly reported it to the librarian. This kind of "pornography pollution" is not acceptable to me, and makes the Ottawa public library an unsafe place for my children. 
Further, thank you for CC'ing my City Council representative, Coun. Jan Harder. I have voted for Jan Harder in the past, and I count on her interest and concern in this matter. 
Having spoken to several other families about the March 5th incident, I have seen that many parents are just as shocked as I am, and believe that pornography has no place on library computers. The filters need to be set higher for everyone, to eliminate explicit and lewd sexual content and protect our children from "second-hand viewing". We all continue to be interested in how this matter shall be addressed and resolved. 
Lea Z. Singh
We shall see where this goes. I am willing to form a coalition of concerned citizens to get pornography out of the public library and protect our children. I realize it will be a longer-term battle, but this cause is worth the effort for me.

Also, notice this shocking content in Mr. Tierney's letter:
OPL uses more filters than most libraries in Canada ...(e.g. child pornography for which we filter – other libraries do not). 
So that's where all the paedophiles hang out these days! Wow. My head is still reeling from that one. Obviously, most libraries have gone far, far astray and no longer constitute a safe environment for our children. In fact, they've gone all the way to the other side, actually tolerating the sexual exploitation of children in the name of 'freedom of information'. It's extremely upsetting.

Still, I don't think that this battle is a lost cause. Even with all the libraries in this country against us, what we have going for us is the concern of regular families. Most Canadian families don't know about this, but I believe they would be just as outraged as I am. So would most grandparents, and many other normal people who haven't been brainwashed like the elites into thinking that pornographic smut is somehow important "information".

I am willing to try my hardest to bring this issue to the attention of regular people, and then let's see who wins the tug-o-war for our libraries.


Below are all my posts on this topic. The most recent are listed first:

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