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Wary of accusations of censorship inside institutions founded on principles of intellectual freedom, many library administrators for years relied on staff and patrons to ferret out unsavory elements who might abuse public Internet access for unsavory aims and images.

The Salt Lake City Main Library and its five branches have long filtered Internet access to computers in their children's sections. During a Thursday evening meeting of the library system's board, members voted unanimously to extend those same filtering capabilities to the entire network of computers available for adult use.

Advance notice of the impending decision generated no public comment, in person or otherwise, during the public meeting held on the Main Library's fifth floor.

"Frankly, I was a little surprised," said Kevin Werner, board president. "I was expecting to hear something."

In fact, the procedure was greeted as little less than a speed bump on the way to items the board greeted with far more interest, including next year's budget and plans to build two new branches in the Glendale and Marmalade neighborhoods.

The decision to filter Internet access harbored far more than the urge to protect children and other patrons. In exchange for its compliance under the federal Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the government will reimburse the Salt Lake City library system 80 percent of its costs for telephone and Internet services. The library also becomes eligible for state funds in grant form, specific to technology projects, administered by the Utah State Library.

At a time when circulation numbers for physical materials — books, DVDs and periodicals — are flat, but demand for Internet access, e-books and other downloadable content has soared, that savings is nothing to sniff at. It is money the library system can use to reinvest in the future, said library spokeswoman Julianne Hancock.

"This year, our federal discounts on telecommunications services will result in about $80,000 in savings for telecommunications services," Hancock said. "In future years, we will apply to be considered for additional discounts, but this gets us well on our way."

The downtown library has had intermittent reports of people using library computers to access pornography and other material harmful to minors. The problem has never become chronic or unmanageable, but the responsibility of often monitoring patrons diverted staff time from other work. "It always put everyone in an uncomfortable position," Hancock said.

Deadline for installment is June next year, but it's estimated the filter will be installed by the end of this summer, she said.

For public libraries everywhere, Werner said, the struggle to keep current in the new digital world is a more significant concern than the occasional nuisance of patrons surfing the Web for obscene and offensive material.

"The filtering issue, while important," he said, "is really an issue outside the greater trend of how libraries are being transformed."