The growing popularity of Washington, D.C.’s libraries among youth raises concerns about the system’s policy to not monitor Internet usage that exposes teens to violence.

“Speech about violence, including videos on social media, is considered constitutionally-protected speech,” said George Williams, media relations manager, DC Public Library. “The Supreme Court overturned California law banning the sale of violent video games to children.  The court doesn’t make a distinction between creating, distributing or consuming protected speech.”

This hands-off attitude to monitoring teen usage of the Internet in the libraries is what has some educators, teens and residents concerned.

Mukhtar Raqib, 26, a librarian who was recently terminated from Leckie Elementary School in the District, said supervised and closely monitored activities are key to curbing non-educational usage. “The public libraries are not as restrictive and regulated as school libraries. They are more free-spirited and allow youth increased opportunities to learn,” said Raqib. “However, without proper guidance youth will surely choose non-educational sites to amuse themselves as a form of escape from their everyday lives.”

On the second floor of the newly built 22,000-square-foot, open space Waltha T. Daniels/ Shaw Library in Northwest Washington, a section for teens is filled with excitement.

“Girl Fight in DC,” a female teen user types in the search bar on YouTube, a very popular social networking site, while another computer plays loud go-go music. Up pops different links showing young females getting clobbered by different girl gangs.

This is not uncommon. Sabrina Griffin, 14, a student at Brightwood Education Campus, said once she finds out a friend has posted a fight on YouTube she looks for it. ‘It’s just entertainment as long as it not about me. Most of the time, I watch music videos,” said Griffin.

But Jordan Dickerson, 15, a straight honor roll student at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, disagreed with how students should use the library’s Internet. “Libraries are peaceful places for educational purposes not somewhere to spend time watching violent things. Maybe the libraries should consider denying access to social network sites that encourage violence.”

Christine D. Easterling, president of the DC Retired Educators Association, said the library can be used to clarify youth values using computer-generated information.

“Use their attractions in a way that will support rather than punish. I believe that we cannot change the values and beliefs that youth have learned through their years at home, school, and in the community,” said Easterling. “However, we can clarify those values by giving youth an opportunity to do opinionated responses to computer generated questions about their values and beliefs.”

Whatever decision is made, Raqib said, something should be done quickly.

“My concern is that we don’t wait until some really bad happens to a teen that we find out was orchestrated by using the library’s Internet system,” he said.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO