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The Problem of Library Porn for Librarians

I can’t seem to get away from the issue of Internet pornography in the library, mainly because so many librarians are so recalcitrant about the issue. So just one last word on the problem of library porn for librarians.

Please don’t trot out the old chestnut that we can’t define porn, so we don’t know what it is. We know what it is, including the people who view it. That’s why people caught viewing porn in libraries by reporters don’t want to talk. They’re ashamed, not of surfing for porn, but of being called about it in public. And it makes for great news stories.

Usually the issue is considered in terms of the problem of library porn for patrons. That’s important of course, and considering the needs of patrons should certainly be a central concern, at least after considering the needs of librarians.

Some adults don’t want to see Internet pornography, and public libraries are the only place that those who disapprove of pornography have to see any. Bookstores and convenience stores and other places that sell pornographic magazines usually hide the covers. I see a lot of people working on laptops in coffee shops, and I’ve never seen anyone surfing for porn.

There’s no other public space where visual pornography is acceptable. Even sex stores don’t have videos playing in the public areas as far as I can tell.

Let’s just ignore these prudes for a moment, these busybodies who expect public libraries to abide by the same conventions as every other public space in the country. They should know better.

Then there’s the argument over porn in children’s areas of the library. This is the only substantive area of disagreement, and the one where the ALA OIF ideology is the most outside the mainstream. It’s illegal to sell pornographic magazines to children, yet the ALA insists that it’s wrong to filter pornography in the children’s area of libraries. The vast majority of people up to and including the Supreme Court think otherwise.

Is porn really a problem for children? This depends on the porn and the child, I suppose. Pornographic videos aren’t really my cuppa, since I much prefer print to video for erotic content, but I’ve seen a few here and there, mostly when preparing for blog posts about the issue.

It’s clear there’s a lot of sick stuff out there, and a lot of sick people apparently watching it. To think that some men (and it’s always men) get enjoyment out of some of the depictions and treatment of women in any number of videos makes me wonder about the sad state of their soul, though it doesn’t make me wonder why they’re watching porn instead of having relationships with real women.

On the other hand, some of it is as tastefully done as possible. Not much, but some.

Would any of it harm children? I won’t link to examples, but for those of you with children, would you want your child of 5 or 7 or so seeing a video of a man choking a woman while ejaculating on her face? Or of young women who seem drug-impaired being gang-raped? Or of young men being gang-raped for that matter.

But let’s say you are one of those librarians who think it’s okay for young children to view gang-rape videos because those videos are “Constitutionally protected speech.” For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re correct, and that this would be just as healthy for children as watching Scooby Doo or whatever it is the kids watch these days.

There’s still a problem with library porn, even if we concede the arguments that public libraries should abide by the convention of every other public space in the country and that children shouldn’t be exposed to Internet porn.

The problem is for the librarians and the library. The problem with library porn is that librarians sound like fools defending it, and sounding like fools is never good for librarians.

They especially sound like fools when they start going on about how the Constitution protects people viewing Internet porn in public libraries. This isn’t a settled issue, but given the other rulings by the Supreme Court, it doesn’t seem likely that this would ever be considered a right.

They also sound like fools when they defend public library porn because of an alleged dedication to access to information. Men who sit in front of library computers viewing Internet porn aren’t “accessing information,” unless we want to make “accessing information” a new euphemism for getting sexually aroused and possibly doing something about that arousal.

I could definitely see this getting traction with librarians, like those tee shirts that say, “Librarians do it in the stacks,” but in general I think it would be detrimental to our cause.

Finally, they sound like fools because no one agrees with them and they have no good arguments for their position. There’s no Constitutional right to view porn. Communities have standards and libraries as public institutions supported by those communities should abide by those standards just like every other public place. This is so commonsensical that only a librarian could think otherwise.

The problem about the whole situation isn’t that the news media like to hop on juicy library porn stories, as if America’s public libraries were full of perverts standing in line to satisfy their porn addictions @ the library. We know that’s not the case.

The problem also isn’t when the news media give such exposure to a relatively limited problem when libraries are in such dire straits.

The problem is with librarians who keep feeding reporters the same laughable lines and making libraries and librarians look ridiculous in times when libraries are in such bad shape. Keep it up and see where it gets you.

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Comments

  1. A.T. says:

    Thanks for this post. You have articulated many of my rather muddled thoughts around this issue. Library porn isn’t confined to public libraries, as I’m sure you know. And “laughable lines” and flawed arguments don’t always come from librarians. Sometimes they come from Deans of Students. Deans of Students who are more concerned about protecting the FIRPA rights (privacy) of a student who has been spoken to several times about viewing pornography on library computers. The last time, there were four eye witnesses who stated that he was also masturbating while viewing. Surely someone forfeits their right to privacy if they’re masturbating in a public place? Nothing was done about the situation. The last word from the Dean was that, “well, pornography is different things to different people”.

  2. Emily H. says:

    I think that people being involuntarily exposed to porn is a big problem, and I think that it can rise to the level of sexual harrassment. I think that filtering computers, therefore, is a pretty good solution for a lot of libraries…

    And privacy screens and other technological solutions that let patrons watch what they want to watch without other patrons being aware of it is potentially a better solution for libraries that can afford to put those technological solutions in place.

  3. EGK says:

    AMEN. This is the first time I have ever agreed with every sentence in one of your blog posts, but you’ve really nailed it this time. This knee-jerk defense of some perceived First Amendment right to view porn is absolutely ridiculous.

  4. anonlib says:

    You do seem to have a hangup on this. May I suggest a therapist?

  5. I attended the New Jersey Library Association Spring Conference yesterday. I wore the usual large tag having your name and affiliation. “Safelibraries blogger” was clear for all to see. That resulted in a lot of comments from vendors and from librarians curious about me. (I suppose, AL, you do not wear a tag saying “The Annoyed Librarian”! Oh darn, I should have!) Every single person I spoke with agreed with me that it was wrong for the ALA to push inappropriate “information” on children, except one, an ACLU lawyer. She said pornography is information. Everyone else felt otherwise and supported what I am doing. One librarian even felt the need to whisper to me for fear people might overhear her saying the ALA was wrong in its position on children and that’s why she is no longer a member.

    You and Will Manley are right, of course, and people like you. Will Manley just recently wrote about how you have to toe the ALA line or your career could get difficult.

    AL, Judith Krug is gone from the OIF. She, a former ACLU leader, started the change that caused the ALA to take the position it currently takes and that most librarians are afraid to speak about. She’s gone and the replacements are poor substitutes; one even is a plagiarizer and astroturfer. When will it occur that the silent/scared majority of librarians will get rid of the Krug acolytes in the OIF and replace them with those genuinely interested in intellectual freedom, true intellectual freedom, which has nothing to do with keeping inappropriate material from children?

    “The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree.”

    - Supreme Court of the United States, [US v. ALA]

    By the way, I learned something explosive at that NJLA meeting, further evidence that the ALA’s yearly top 10 challenged list is deceptive and false, but I’ll be blogging more about that soon. You see, I have no fear of the ALA.

  6. Lisa says:

    At my library we do filter the children’s computers but not the adult’s. They are on different floors. In our Internet policy we have a section that states that patrons cannot access sexually explicit materials. We do enforce this by warning the patron and then asking them to leave if they continue to access porn. In the four years I have been at my library we have had no incidents of men masturbating. We have had a woman however. I can’t imagine telling a mom who complains that her child has walked by a computer with porn on it that everyone has the right to free speech.

  7. librarEwoman says:

    While the AL and many others have claimed that everyone knows what pornography is, I have not yet read an actual definition from the AL or any commentators. I agree that library patrons should not feel forced to see visual content they consider to be too explicit. However, this isn’t limited to pornography. What about visual content that is explicit in a violent way? Certain online games come to mind in this category. While internet filters help to filter out some explicit material, they don’t filter all of the visual content that people may find offensive. Some type of privacy screen would be a good solution. There are privacy shields that can be added to computer screens so that people can only see what is on the screen if they are sitting directly in front of the screen. Using this handy piece of equipment in combination with filtering software may be the best solution. However, filters often do block legitimate content. I know the AL enjoys poking fun at this complaint; but it’s true. Recently, I was looking up information about different types of flowers, and many websites about flowers were blocked by our internet filter. The filter insisted the sites were pornographic. The only reason I could figure out is that some of the flowers have names which could be construed by software to signal a pornographic website. Internet filters have a lot of room for improvement! I suppose my overall point is this: While no one should feel forced to look at content they consider explicit while visiting a public library, deciding at what point content is so explicit that no one should be allowed to view it in public is not a clear cut task. There’s no perfect solution to make everyone happy, but the best solution seems to be to take precautions by using filtering software, and then protect everyone’s privacy by using privacy screens on the computer screens. Patrons can always ask for blocked websites to be unblocked on a case-by-case basis if needed, and if they do decide to view something that another patron would consider offensive, they’ll have the privacy screen to solve that conflict of interest.

  8. Paige says:

    I agree about the hangup, given the fact that you’re openly judging people that watch porn–and it seems you’re judging the people that watch porn in general, not just those who seem to need to watch it in a public space. Have your opinions on whether or not it should be allowable in a public library, sure, but just because people may enjoy porn/erotic videos on their own time doesn’t make them sick or perverted.

  9. K says:

    AL, while I could not agree more with you on this issue, I have one minor quibble. When you say that “There’s no Constitutional right to view porn,” you are probably mistaken. Viewing pornography is a private matter for adults and outside of the library is none of our business. The presence of pornography in libraries becomes our business when it damages our ability to accomplish our mission, which is to promote reading and learning. Viewing pornography in public settings such as schools and libraries interferes with learning. It’s harmful to children, as no person would argue. It has a negative impact on the ability of our employees to do their job and it’s not fair to force employees to endure this. There’s no Constitutional right to view pornography at the library. The first amendment also addresses religious freedom. It gives us the right to worship as we please, but it does not require the government to build you a church and pay for your priest. Similarly, the first amendment gives us the right to speak freely. It does not require the government to provide pornography over the internet or in any other form.

  10. Fat Guy says:

    I actually agree with you on this issue, AL, but yeah, you’ve really gotten stuck here. This is Andy Rooney schtick.

  11. Spencer says:

    I don’t see what the argument is. Show me a library that displays (or even carries)… my mind is drawing blank and the only title I can think of is the one from Married with Children right now… Anyway, show me a library that houses porn magazines or porn DVDs for public checkout. Now show me one that interfiles these with nonpornographic material.

    So, if we don’t do it for print, why do we do it for the internet?

  12. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:
  13. Cattycataloger says:

    I’m throwing in my 2 cents worth here. I went to McDonalds about 2 weeks ago. I was appalled at what I saw. There sat a couple engaged in foreplay! Yes foreplay. His legs were drapped over her leg. His hands ran up and down her torso and the lips of the 2 were engaged in extremely sensual kissing.

    Had I been alone. I would have just stood in front of them. I figure they needed folks to watch to get really aroused and I’m a helpful sort; however, I had my 8 year old daughter with me. She is on the Autism spectrum and though extremely high functioning she has a difficulty with understanding appropriate behavior.

    So I guess my argument here is AL porn is out on the streets. The manager of McDonalds took his sweet time about going and looking into the matter. By then the couple had heard me complaining (I have a voice that carries). They seperated to a barely acceptable distance. And he came to me ?ING my complaint. I loudly informed him that they heard my complaints and took care of the matter themselves. In the end that McDonalds lost my busy. I wonder how many of our public libraries loose support due to this protection of viewing explicit materials. Sorry. Just disagreeing that you can’t find porn anywhere but in libraries.

  14. Randal Powell says:

    AL, you better get to work creating filtering software that only filters porn and nothing else, because one doesn’t exist.

  15. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Randal, you’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The twopointopians would be very unhappy with you.

  16. JimBob says:

    I left a position because of porn. It was a medical library and a member of the public came and printer out pages of photos of homosexual porn. I complained to my manager that I didn’t want to work in such conditions, and they told me that they would not do anything. Of course they said it is a nice wishy-washy, liberal, fence-riding way. You know, no committing to moral principles, and making it seem like everything is okay. The problem runs deeper in our society than libraries. People are immoral, and we the limb-wristed public let them get their way. People tend to think of porn as a children issue. Well, I happen to be a married male who was challenged with a long addiction with porn and masturbation. I got over it over ten years ago, but it is a continually temptation. We can’t forget that people out there are tempted to sin by seeing other people watch this stuff. I would say that 99.9% of the people engaging into public (not to mention private) viewing of porn are engaged in a destructive and potentially addictive which is aberrant and should not be tolerated in libraries. SO few people live by a clear moral code, and have a clear concept of what life is about, so we end up having little no clarity in our policy, and of course evil finds the crack and exploits. Some places embrace evil, an of course good people hate those places. The quickest way to destroy a good library is through porn.

  17. Randal Powell says:

    AL, the filtering software currently available, not only isn’t perfect, it isn’t even good.

  18. Spekkio says:

    Not going to write a book, just a few quick points:

    1. Only men enjoy “sick” porn? AL, as an academic librarian, you should know better than to engage in generalizations. I’m not sure I’m keen on the word “sick,” for that matter. What consenting adults do in private is their business so long as nobody’s judgment is impaired (e.g. drugs, alcohol) and no one is harmed (i.e. nobody is permanently scarred or damaged).

    2. We have a porn definition – at least in the United States. I would say it’s just short of the Miller test…the material is about sex and it doesn’t have any value aside from sex. Ta-Da!

  19. NobamaLady says:

    Why, just the other day I was at the local Pamida getting extra paper plates for the church picnic and oh my goodness there it was- a magazine with the whole cast of that awful anti-American, anti-Christian TV show Glee! Did you know they have one of them homosexual boys as one of the stars? My niece Linda Lou watches that show, and I told her in no uncertain terms that she should avoid things like that, as it will lead her astray from her proper upbringing and the Lord!
    And then later that day, I went to the town public library to pick up the 7th Heaven DVD I had reserved and a couple Harlequin romance novels, and there was that same magazine! My stars, what is this town coming to? Next Sunday when I see Councilman Johnston at services I’m going to give him a piece of my mind about that filth, and tell him that the worst thing this town ever did was lift that ban on dancing!

  20. me too says:

    Porn Sucks. And librarians who are afraid to stand against it suck too. There are plenty of adult shops — probably in your town. Why not go get a job there if you want to dish out “protected” speech.

  21. K says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I see no good reason that we are not allowed to ban porn in our libraries. Sometimes ALA & freedom of information advocates take things way too far.

  22. Dani says:

    The issue isn’t porn, it’s masturbation. In the 10 years I’ve worked in public libraries, I’ve witnessed 4 major incidents and heard about many more. When patrons get into areas like indecent exposure and sexual misconduct, they certainly don’t deserve the “right to view porn” in a public place. What about the other patrons’ right to a non-hostile environment? What about the janitors who have to clean up semen? (One time, the manager made the patron clean it up) What about my rights as an employee to not have to assist patrons with finding porn if I don’t agree with it? I’m not morally opposed it, it’s just not for me, and I shouldn’t have to help anybody find a midget-horse fetish site if I don’t want to.