For Ellie Muelrath, the case for putting Internet filters in Sonoma County's libraries was made vivid last December.
With three children in tow, she was looking for Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" when her stepdaughter, then 12, glimpsed one of the public computer screens at the main library in downtown Santa Rosa.
"She whispered, &‘Oh my God, that guy was looking at porn,'" Muelrath said.
Such experiences inspired the Sonoma County grand jury to again push the library to use Internet filters in its annual report released this summer. The grand jury also recommended reorganizing the layout of the computers to make them less visible to passersby in the downtown branch.
But both the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma County Library Commission are declining to follow the grand jury's recommendations.
On Wednesday, supervisors sidestepped the issue, saying that library policy is governed by a seven-member library commission.
Last month, the commission wrote a lengthy response outlining practical and philosophical flaws with using software to limit where people may go online and with rearranging computers.
No library patron should be subjected to objectionable material, the response said. But it also said no one viewing things on the Internet should be subject to the censorship from a computer program that decides what is appropriate.
Software filters are costly, ineffective and rife with troubling questions about where the line gets drawn, the statement said. Sexual images offend many, but what about violence or even extreme political views, asked Julia Freis, a local attorney and a member of the commission.
"When you start censoring, it is a slippery slope," she said. "We don't really want to be in the position of censoring. It's against the library's mission."
The library said it prefers to respond to the people who cause problems.
Library officials said they are vigilant against violations of the computer user agreement that calls on patrons to "avoid viewing material that might be considered objectionable to other library users."
If someone complains, a librarian shows the suspected offender the terms of the agreement and reminds them they are in a public place.
Another infraction can result in a day-long suspension. Typically, though, many are so embarrassed they quickly leave.
"Very rarely do they ever come back," said library director Sandy Cooper.
Since starting a log last September, the library system has recorded 45 incidents of patrons suspected of viewing pornography on library computers. Muelrath, of Santa Rosa, was one of those filing a complaint.
The Petaluma branch recorded the most problems, with 15, followed by central Santa Rosa with 12 incidents and Sebastopol with four.
Those are low numbers considering that more than 150 computers spread over 11 branches are probably in use for 90 percent of the time that the libraries are open, said Doug Cisney, interim branch manager of the downtown library.
Members of the grand jury could not be reached Wednesday. In their report, they said that the library is rightly concerned about First Amendment issues, but is putting those worries above even more pressing matters.
Library policymakers "seem to be more concerned with preserving the right to access these images by consenting adults than protecting our minor children," the report said.
In one incident in March, an adult was found looking at pornography on a computer reserved for children at the Cloverdale branch.