The Ottawa Public Library will be stricter with people who openly display explicit content such as pornography on its computers, following public complaints it wasn't doing enough to protect patrons from seeing offensive material.

Library staff will ask people to shut down or turn off material that leads to a complaint, whether it's explicitly violent, overtly sexual or contains threatening language, a spokesperson for the library said Tuesday.

The current policy only has staff direct offending patrons to a more discreet area.

The public outcry followed a story published by CBC News about an Ottawa mother who said her two daughters saw a man watching explicit pornography at a public library branch.

Jennifer St. Pierre said it happened in a high-traffic area of the Greenboro Ottawa Public Library (OPL) branch in late July.

She was later told by the library that anyone can access online pornography in their libraries if the material they're viewing is legal and they're over 18, she said.

Modelled on other libraries

Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the library board, said there was a significant public reaction to St. Pierre's story.

Tim Tierney Ottawa Public Library And Archives Canada

OPL board chair Tim Tierney said he directed the library to review its policy around people displaying explicit material on library computers. (CBC)

"I've asked the CEO of the library to look into this, look into making changes similar to Vancouver, Hamilton, Gatineau, Aurora, Calgary," Tierney told CBC News Tuesday.

The policy is aimed at balancing library's mandate to promote the right to access information and its function as a public space, according to a statement from the library.

No filtering, monitoring

OPL spokesperson Anna Basile said the library is changing its network access policy to include the phrase "refrain from displaying content that may be offensive to others in a public setting."

This is in addition to asking patrons to "respect the sensibilities of others," as per the old policy.

Enforcement will be based on complaints from patrons and reviewed by staff who can then address individuals who may be viewing offensive material, Basile said.

"We will not monitor."

There will be no additional filters or firewalls blocking pornographic content, she said, though the library will continue to filter child pornography and some other sites based on security.

"Filters and blocking aren't proven to be effective," Basile said, adding they are only as effective as reports of offensive content.

'It's not really a solution'

St. Pierre said Tuesday she was happy her story led to changes, but the policy doesn't go far enough. Without a firewall, children and library staff can still be exposed to offensive material.

"It's just now going to be a matter of who's going to come across and see it," she said. "It's not really a solution to a problem because you're still going to have a child seeing something that is confusing and scary to them. It's just not right."

Jennifer St. Pierre

Jennifer St. Pierre said she's happy the library has changed its policy about watching porn and other offensive material in public, but that the changes don't go far enough. (CBC News)

OPL should be doing more to address the rights of children to have a safe, welcoming environment and perhaps consider some kind of designated space where people can watch adult material, St. Pierre said.

"They talk about so much rights for people to watch porn; what about the children's rights to not have to see that?" she said. 

She also said she doesn't understand how a firewall wouldn't be effective since the government and other workplaces use them.