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Libraries and Porn Privacy

Librarians do love their porn, don’t they. Safe Libraries Guy sent me links about a juicy story where two men got into a fistfight over porn in the Brooklyn Public Library. One man was busy enjoying his Internet porn when another man waiting for the computer attacked him.

Safe Libraries Guy argues that the problem is the ALA urging libraries to disregard federal law. He does have a point there. Libraries that receive any federal money are supposed to put Internet filters on their computers, and adult library patrons can request that they be disabled for their sessions.

That law might be irrelevant in the future, when the federal government cuts funding to public libraries. Then libraries can safely indulge all the Internet porn they like!

Some librarians claim that this might embarrass library patrons, but that’s a pretty silly claim. Any man who sits at a public library computer watching Internet porn and massaging his genitals is obviously beyond embarrassment. That’s a point so obvious no one should have to make it, but librarians buried brain deep in ALA ideology don’t always see things clearly.

Some other librarians claim that such filters are a violation of library patron’s First Amendment rights to view Internet porn on library computers. That’s what the New York Public Library told the New York Post for its article on porn in the library.

“In deference to the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, the New York Public Library cannot prevent adult patrons from accessing adult content that is legal.”

The thing is, that’s not exactly true.

The SCOTUS ruled in 2003 that filters which patrons can request be disabled do not violate the First Amendment. I have this sneaking feeling that they would say the same thing about porn filters that patrons can’t disable, since I find it inconceivable that any Supreme Court would uphold a right to view Internet porn on public library computers. If that fight came before the Court, it would be yet another pro-porn battle lost by the ALA.

One blogger bemoaned that the Post was publishing an article like this when New York libraries were in such financial trouble. But if librarians insist on sounding like smut peddlers, the articles will keep coming. If this is the hill librarians want to die on while they pretend they’re protecting free speech, then so be it.

The same librarians claim the porn filters are problematic because they can interfere with library patrons doing non-porn related searches. The cliched example that always comes up, and which therefore must be on some ALA talking point list, is breast cancer.

Claims like that beggar the imagination. Yes, if some patron with a woefully inadequate vocabulary tried to do an Internet search for “boob cancer” or “juggs cancer” or something similar, some sites might be blocked. But you’d have to be a fool to think that an Internet porn filter would block out a significant number of worthwhile breast cancer information sites.

Some of the cliches came out a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, when there was an uproar over a man viewing Internet porn near where some children were waiting to check out books.

The LA Times story reported that a librarian told the city council that. “The filters block websites with certain keywords and phrases deemed obscene. That means, for example, that they could keep patrons from accessing websites about breast cancer.” Yeah, sure.

The solution, apparently, was to reorient computers to make it harder for passersby to see whether men were viewing porn on the computer. (It’s always men, isn’t it?)

I agree that this is the best solution, and for years I’ve advocated the perfect solution to this problem. If libraries want men to be able to view Internet porn without offending others, then they just need to set up private viewing booths.

Ideally, they would be soundproofed as well, so if someone preferred video to photo porn they could crank up the sound to make sure they didn’t miss any of the dialogue. They should probably be supplied with a box of tissues, and maybe a bottle of lubricant for courtesy.

Libraries could also supply sanitizing wipes, which hopefully wouldn’t be confused with the tissues at inopportune moments.

The computers could have those rubber folding keyboards that can be washed. Stainless steel chairs would be a good idea as well. They would be less comfortable for the patrons, but much easier to sanitize. The men using them could just fold up their trousers and use them as cushions.

This would solve the problem, because passersby wouldn’t be able to see the computer screens at all. It would also be right in line with another ALA obsession, patron privacy. What could be more private than a private viewing booth?

It’s really a win-win scenario, and the logical conclusion to the argument that making computers more private will solve the problem. I hope the Los Angeles libraries adopt this policy forthwith.

In Brooklyn, it would solve the problem of angry patrons waiting to use computers punching men who were just using them for porn, because nobody would know.

I don’t know why any libraries haven’t already done this. It’s perfect for them. Alleged Constitutional right to view Internet porn on public library computers protected? Check. Privacy of porn viewers and public masturbaters protected? Check. The right of children and decent people not to be forced to watch porn and public masturbation protected? Check.

Problem solved.

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Comments

  1. We’ve all seen big brands lose their cache. I noticed this happening for public libraries last year with a range of mass media questioning their operations and using them as the butt of jokes. This trend continues with coverage of the pornography issue.

    1) Inside Edition questions NPL salaries: http://www.insideedition.com/news/5157/inside-edition-investigates-monster-salaries.aspx
    2) FOX News questions public expenditures on libraries: http://www.radicalpatron.com/fox-news-best-info-and-context-about-public-library-issues/
    3) HuffPO spotlights passive-aggressive library signs with the intro “In honor of library week, here’s a collection of threatening library signs. Librarians can be VICIOUS.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/16/national-library-week-pas_n_540994.html
    4) The Onion satirizes newspapers and libraries take a lickin’ too: http://www.theonion.com/video/boston-globe-tailors-print-edition-for-three-remai,17572/
    5) Jay Leno quips about library budget cuts: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6728690.html

  2. Gina says:

    Well said, Annoyed Librarian. This porno business is a real thorn in the side of librarians who want to promote the professionalism of the public library. IMHO, I will always support access to free, useful information, but even I don’t want my tax dollars to go to support the habits of indecent, public “petters”. The library is supposed to be an institution that elevates society, not some conglomerate of a bookstore and a sleazy bar.

  3. Paige says:

    Not that I condone watching porn in the library, why is it assumed that someone watching “porn” would be masturbating as well? Obviously if someone is masturbating they’ve crossed a MAJOR line. But just *watching* something considered erotic/pornographic/etc…?

  4. librarEwoman says:

    This discussion is somewhat of a slippery slope. What about romance/erotica novels? Libraries have plenty of books with erotic content in them. Are the women being indecent when they read erotic romance novels in the library? Is this clearly different than viewing erotic content online? At what point does online visual content become erotic? Definitions vary. Who is going to be the one to decide? I agree with Paige; if someone is masturbating in public, they’ve crossed a line. It’s not legal to do that in public. But who has the authority to define what is too erotic to view in public and what isn’t?

  5. Spencer says:

    @librarEwoman:

    WE HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO DEFINE WHAT IS TOO EROTIC TO VEW IN PUBLIC. We are the keepers of information. We censor books via selection all the time. Where are our library copies (maybe reference copies?) of penthouse letters? Where are the “insert trashy porn mag title here” magazines on the racks to be perused and checked out next to our copies of tiger beat or the economist?

    This is not a slippery slope at all. Public viewing, on publicly owned computers, of nudity and sex acts are not acceptable.

    However, what if we had a back room for adults only like you used to see in local video stores? Surely that would increase the library’s use by the public.

  6. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    You can put all the filters you want on the computers, but as long as porno viewers can ask to have the filter turned off, they will. These guys (maybe a few gals) have no sense of shame that will prevent them from viewing this material. It’s not really the images that gives them their jollies, it’s the reaction they get from the people around that sends them into ecstasy.

    Even if you cut off all visual images, they will still be hanging around the library doing other creepy things to shock those around them. And don’t think that the saintly academic community is immune. There are plenty of perverts roaming the university campuses of this country.

  7. Melissa says:

    Funny. And ick.

    We never caught anyone watching porn at the last library I worked at, but we did have a flasher in the stacks. It was a college library, so it wasn’t quite as bad.

    And the whole “patrons can’t look up breast cancer info” because of the filters is total bunk. Do a quick internet search for breast cancer and see if any porn pops up without a filter. I’ve never had it happen, and I’ve done several searches on breast cancer in the last year.

  8. pornforwomenonly says:

    I catalog porn for women almost every day, certainly every time a truckload of fiction comes through. Much of current romance fiction is at least as explicit as Fanny Hill ever way. Another example of males crippled by the missing x chromosome I guess – they respond to visual rather than textual porn couched in a romance story.

    I don’t want children or anyone who doesn’t wish to be exposed to porn to encounter it in the public library but in the interest of equity, let’s get rid of romance fiction as well!

  9. Smitty says:

    No, lets not get rid of romance fiction. Let’s have computer screens the size of a romance paperback.

  10. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    The difference between reading romance novel porn and viewing porn online is pretty distinct. In order to be “exposed” to something explicit contained in a book you would have to literally be reading over their shoulder. I’ve never heard a child ask their parent what a “throbbing manroot” was.
    However, people viewing porn on computers are often in the sight-lines of many people, especially in smaller libraries where there weren’t a lot of options as to where to place the computers in the building, unless you had the time (and funding) to reconfigure the entire layout. I work in a one room library building, and our computers are smack dab in the middle of the room because there was no where else for them to go.
    Our library policy is mostly reactionary, we are not to monitor what our patrons are doing online, but if a patron comes up to us and “objects” to what they witness we can “suggest” that the offender find something else to look at online.
    Most patrons won’t do this however, fearing that they will be singled out by the perp. Typically I’ll only hear about it weeks later when the patron complains in a letter to administration (or the editor).
    I don’t really buy the notion that these people as a rule are doing it deliberately to shock people (although I’m sure some do), in most cases these are people who for various reasons have nothing constructive to do, nowhere to go, and are not able to fulfill their needs in an appropriate manner. It’s still awfully disgusting, but also sad and pitiful.

  11. Bruce Campbell says:

    Outstanding post, AL.

    If we do start building masturbatoriums…the circulation workers will clean them, right?

    That should curb the growing number of people entering library school.

    I want to stay at the reference desk and tell people about databases.

  12. Andria says:

    The problem isn’t necessarily what these patrons are looking at (which is almost always serious, hard-core streaming porn and would not be confused with “erotica” or “romance fiction” by any sane person). My problem and the problem my colleagues and I struggle with is that their behavior while watching these vidoes disturbs everyone around them, both men and women who constantly complain to us at the Reference Desk of being visually assaulted with hard-core streaming porn videos while trying to study on laptops or browse for books in the stacks as the privacy screens are completely useless. These degenerate creeps further intimidate other patrons while waiting their turn for a computer, even when not fist-fighting, by staring at women waiting on line and mumbling things like “pussy” themselves, but audible to others. They are in the library every day from 9am to 9p to sign up for one 30-minute computer session after another and still attempt to disable our reservation system even though they get an unlimited amount sessions. They have no other information needs, never ask for assistance, and the computers frequently crash for the next patrons that use them. The fist fight that broke out was only surprising that it hadn’t happened before. I honestly don’t care what people look at, but these men (and it is ALWAYS men) are truly disturbed individuals whose behavior while looking at their addiction has created a very hostile environment for staff and patrons (sometimes referred to as tax paying citizens). We never talk about that, only the 1st Amendment. What about the all freaky behavior associated with watching hard-cord porn for 12 hours a day?

  13. @annoyedlibraryworker
    @Andria

    Having read your comments, I ask that you consider writing a guest blog post on my SafeLibraries blog as others have. I am likely the only source that will provide a medium for people like you to speak your minds on such issues in a manner intended to provide notice to others and that will reach many in the library community. You can stay as anonymous as needed to protect your careers (so much for intellectual freedom), and I will not disclose your email addresses or any other identifying information without your permission.

    The person who created these crazy library policies then enforced them is no longer at the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the replacements pale in comparison, so perhaps it is time for librarians such as yourselves to begin to take action to restore respectability to the library profession which has suffered due to the OIF’s anything-goes policy as described by Will Manley, a frequent commenter on the AL’s posts:

    http://tinyurl.com/WillManley

    @AL
    Thanks.

    @Bruce Campbell
    As to “masturbatoriums,” I am already aware of one university that has given up on the fight against masturbators and instead provides the librarians with haz mat kits to clean up the mess afterwards.

  14. olly says:

    WHY of all the fights librarians could be starting–fights that actually could BENEFIT society if fought responsibly–are they fighting THIS FIGHT?

    The number one purpose of libraries is providing high quality books (audio & ebooks included) for reading and research. Everything else is secondary. We provide internet access only because we are the only public institution that does so for free (I think there should be public internet cafes, and we can largely wash our hands of the mess, but that won’t happen anytime soon).

    Public internet access is PERIPHERAL to the library’s number one purpose. Allowing pornography for titillation is OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF (arguably, AGAINST) the #1 purpose.

    [anyway, if you want to fight a good Internet fight, fight for net neutrality, not this irrelevance]

    Stop giving us a bad name, and fight for reading and literacy! Shut up about porn!

  15. Bruce Campbell says:

    author: SafeLibraries
    I am already aware of one university that has given up on the fight against masturbators and instead provides the librarians with haz mat kits to clean up the mess afterwards.

    Come out with the name, already. I’d like to send them a care package.

    Olly – Access to computers is a MASSIVE part of a public a library’s service. You are naive if you think otherwise. Try taking the computers out of the library and see what happens to your door count numbers.

  16. Lev Kamenev says:

    But wait! What about those poor sods that come in to the library with no wealth but the clothes on their backs, tired and hungry and looking for a quick thrill. You snobby librarians and your cruel interpretation of what’s appropriate! These destitute people need happiness, too, and what would libraries be without trying to please everyone. Come on, it’s not like these people are asking us to watch! Just maybe provide ear phones and hand sanitizer for afterward. Remember, this is better than beer. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s free.

  17. olly says:

    I have no illusions: providing access to computers is a massive part of contemporary public library service. What I’m suggesting is that it is *in fact* peripheral to our primary mission–promoting reading and literacy. The majority of users access these computers to fulfill quotidian tasks (send an email, check facebook, apply for a job). While the these tasks (and a free public means to accomplish them) are important, they have nothing to do with librarianship.

    Andrew Abbot (1988) wrote that professions claim “jurisdictions” over particular tasks, and can lose that jurisdiction to other professions for various reasons (e.g. early psychiatry took over warehousing the insane from jailers, then diagnosing unusual mental disorders from neurologists). I am saying libraries ought to lose jurisdiction of public internet access to an institution that exists only for that–an internet cafe. We should still of course offer access to the internet, but hopefully the majority of people would be redirected to this cafe.

    Door count numbers would suffer–but the only people who care about that are state bureaucrats and (necessarily) obsequious directors desperate to “prove their relevance.” Hopefully we’ll soon be past this phase of having to prove quantitatively that libraries are useful.

  18. britney spears says:

    @ olly

    Now, I am not an expert on self-destruction, but I think that it’s possible you’re really gunning for a cliff.

    I know places that had books in them and didn’t offer WiFi or internet access. They were called independent bookstores and the last one in my area closed its doors last December.

  19. D says:

    I think that Olly is correct about the internet not being central to our purpose. The library’s mission is specific and educational; it exists to promote reading and learning. Sending and receiving email, socially networking, and interacting with each other in other ways on the internet are peripheral to the traditional function of libraries. When the internet adversely affects that role, as it does when people consume pornography in public educational settings, we need to control it or get rid of it. Free Wi-Fi is unlikely to save us, but can hinder us from accomplishing our mission.
    The slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy, an old first amendment fundamentalist saw. For the rest of us, life is complicated and nuanced, where our desire for freedom comes into conflict with our impulse to civilize and order ourselves. We librarians can do a better job balancing our support of the first amendment with accomplishing our mission. Our mission is not to provide access to every piece of information indiscriminately. Our mission is to gather and connect people with the best and most useful knowledge we’ve created. If pornography is harmful to children, if it creates a hostile workplace for library employees, and if it damages our ability to promote reading and learning, we are foolish to allow it to interfere with our important work.

  20. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    @D
    well said!

  21. FinallyaLibrarian says:

    The branches I have worked (public libraries) this has not been a big issue. But, it can be addressed VERY simply. Most libraries have policies where patrons can be asked to change behavior or leave if they are causing a disruption of the library’s environment or other patrons. I think the real problem is the average library administration’s lack of guts in having repeat offenders banned from entering the building. I just don’t get it, if you act up at any other government facility you would be arrested, but WE have to put up with cell phone yaking, latte slurping, flip flop slappin’, old buddy reunions, material theiving all day long. Porn addicts should be the FIRST to get banned. ANY LIBRARIAN who thinks otherwise is an over educated idiot.

  22. Bruce Campbell says:

    Librarians are tremendous wimps/doormats when it comes to recidivists porn-watchers. Part of it has to do with the library being staffed mainly by women and the porn people are creepy men, who I (a man) don’t feel completely comfortable approaching.

    Just a few weeks ago a couple was caught fornicating in my library, the special archives room. I wasn’t there, but we are able to identify the culprit. I pushed for banishing them from the library, but administration thought it would be a bad idea. We’re only as strong as our weakest link, people. And most school administrators are pro-student, anti-standards/rules of conduct.

  23. Paige says:

    Again–fornicating in the library is much more serious than someone simply watching porn.

  24. JimBob says:

    The truth is most erotica is also immoral, so the library is already trying to play both sides of the fence. A natural result of dealing in immorality is MORE immorality. Welcome to the modern “liberated” world.

  25. Dani says:

    #12 Andria

    AMEN!

    This whole topic really creeps me out. I started working in public libraries when I was 15, and my manager would tell us shelvers that we didn’t have to shelve in the areas where we knew patrons were watching porn. The first time it happened I asked him why couldn’t he just ask the man to leave, but as far as managers go, he was pretty useless and didn’t do anything. Ten years later, it’s still happening at all the branches in my system. And a very similar thing (to the issue at BPL) happened last year at my branch with a man masturbating to gay porn, and allegedly, he smiled at the man next to him, which prompted a beat down.

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