The US library that was going to implement fingerprint scanning for the use of public computer points has given up on the plan – for now. The Chicago Tribune has this report on how the plan was apparently provoked by problems with patrons accessing offensive material (the journo says ‘pornography’ but given the various legal concepts in the US over obscenity/pornography/etc, I’m going to stick with the nice fuzzy ‘offensive’ word for now). They had been using library card logons (which is quite common in recent years; usually with a temporary pass being issued to ‘outside’ readers), but this wasn’t reliable enough. The ditching is being blamed on software compatibility.
On a sidenote, the issue of causing-offence-to-others-through-surfing has always been a significant one for libraries. There were some early sexual harassment-type cases, where library staff complained to the (US) Equal Employment Opportunities Commission about a hostile work environment – the Commission found that managerial inaction ‘may’ have created this situation. It didn’t really go far as a precedent, though, as using screen shading/recessed monitors, and so on, has mitigated this possible issue. Libraries in the US have taken an extremely strong anti-filtering line, so the harassment issue is one of the side effects of this First Amendment defence. (Indeed, Lee Ann Torrans’ book on ‘Law and Libraries‘, probably one of the most thorough of the small ‘library law’ genre in recent years, devotes its first chapter to this clash). Clearly an issue – but are fingerprints the only solution?