Keeping kids safe on the Internet: one library's story

The Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System has put in place an Internet Safety Education Program featuring the NetSmartz Workshop, an animated, interactive, age appropriate software program designed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  This educational tool teaches Internet safety awareness to children, teens, parents, guardians, and educators and is available in three grade levels. The one thing that impressed our staff the most was that the workshop is totally self-contained.  A student can work through the entire program without assistance from library staff.

In an effort to maximize exposure, the library made the decision to deploy NetSmartz software to all public computers in our branches and to those on our Spanish-language Cybermobile.  In retrospect, deploying the software to a limited number of computers in each branch would have been just as effective.  Three different options for children to complete the program were then put in place to assist with implementation:

  1. allow children to work through the workshop on their own at a single computer;
  2. allow children to work at their own pace but in a group setting;
  3. allow children to participate in a class setting with the material projected onto a screen.

One of the early challenges we faced was how to address the audio component of the software if students completed the program on the library public floor.  To keep from disturbing other library users, it was decided to provide ear buds to each participant as an incentive to complete the workshop utilizing donations from local companies to purchase ear buds in bulk quantities.

Library policy was updated to require completion of the NetSmartz Workshop before users under 17 years of age are allowed to access the Internet on library computers, a requirement which can be waived on the request of parents via a signed authorization form.  The number of children completing the program is tracked through our Integrated Library System (Horizon).     

The library has partnered with Hillsborough County Recreation Centers, City of Tampa Recreation Centers, and the Hillsborough County Public School System to expand access to the Internet safety awareness program.  As a result, the NetSmartz software has been installed on computers in the media centers of all public schools in Hillsborough County and NetSmartz programs have been conducted in multiple recreation centers.  The library has also worked with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to provide informative workshops on Internet safety for parents.

  • Moving forward, the library has expanded efforts to teach Internet safety to children, teens and adults.All children under age 17 continue to complete the program in order to have access to Internet computers.
  • Hillsborough County schools have agreed to introduce the NetSmartz program to all incoming 2nd graders and report the numbers to the library. Approximately 14,000 students get registered annually.
  • Internet safety informational programs for adults have increased; many specifically target senior citizens – senior centers, retirement communities, etc.
  • All of the library’s Internet-related technology classes begin with a brief video on Internet safety and prevention tips. 

More information concerning the NetSmartz Workshop is available through the following links:

Renelda Sells

Chief Librarian

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library