Porn Again

The subject of Internet porn and the realization that people are able to access hideous stuff on public access computers in libraries has reared it ugly head yet again.  An editorial in the Dallas Morning News takes libraries to task for their handling of the situation, and I have to admit I rather agree with what the writer has to say.

Let’s review: You cannot eat your sack lunch inside the Dallas Public Library, because that would be messy and distracting. If, however, you wish to view an Internet site depicting “merciless scenes of raw brutal domination,” that’s your business.

The city wants to devote taxpayer scratch to a pull-’em-up billboard campaign, lest anyone be subjected to the unsightly upper portion of somebody’s underpants. But if you want to park next to a schoolkid working on a homework project and use a city-owned computer to slobber over images of “unleashed sexual terror,” go right ahead.

Well, yes.  It doesn’t make much sense that we’re vigilantly banning soft drinks, but not hard porn.  She continues:

Librarians might argue that it’s not their job to be content cops, to decide what patrons can and can’t see.

But they already police content when they decide not to order Hustler for the periodicals department. Libraries make decisions about what they will and won’t offer every day.

Yup.  Collection Development is censorship, if you choose to look at it that way.  The reality is, we make choices all the time about the appropriate content for our respective libraries.  Leaving something out of the mix can be viewed as censorship, or it can be viewed as proper collection management.

Librarians are familiar, no doubt, with being caught in the vise of competing interests. A few years ago, one small Denton County town installed filters on library computers at city leaders’ behest.

A handful of patrons complained that this violated their rights, so the library unplugged Internet access completely. Then the state commission that funds libraries warned that, unless the Internet was restored, the library would lose state support.

Oh, geez.  It’s that kind of knee-jerk reaction that does no one good.  It rather reminds me of a childhood story: one day, driving around will all five of us kids in the station wagon, two of my brothers got to squabbling.  Tommy announced to my mother that, “Mo-om, John’s looking out my window!”  Mom, no doubt wanting quiet more than justice, declared, “No one look out anyone else’s window!!”   She’s now mortified that she actually said something like that, but I think it’s hilarious – and illustrative of the sorts of reactions we have when we’re stressed and sick of hearing about/dealing with a problem.  Someone’s looking at porn on the computers?  FINE.  NO ONE CAN ACCESS THE INTERNET EVER AGAIN.  Ahem.

It’s an idiotic situation – everybody making so much noise, while the librarians themselves are afraid to make a judgment call.

But for crying out loud, can somebody please muster the coconuts to say that civility and decency have value, that people who want to wallow in filth don’t have the right to do it in a public place and on the public dime?

I’d sign that petition.  My take on the situation has always been this:  while it may be your constitutional right to view this stuff, viewing it on a public access computer in a public place is about as appropriate as walking in the front door of the library and dropping your pants.  Get over yourself and CUT IT OUT.

The writer concludes:

I understand there are no ideal solutions here. Dallas libraries can and do warn patrons that they’re violating policy. Maybe the policy needs to be spelled out a little more plainly.

Filters aren’t ideal. Requiring librarians to pace around like hall monitors and check on what patrons are viewing isn’t ideal. Reserving a few unfiltered computers for adult users only isn’t ideal.

But doing nothing is worse than not ideal. It’s unconscionable. The city needs to pick one of those less-than-perfect options and live with it.

It’s amazing we’re still dealing with this nonsense.   Can we just decide that this is not appropriate viewing material for a public library and move on with more important stuff?

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Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship

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