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Evergreen State Library of Porn

Library porn is all over the news again, this time in Washington state.

This story from Seattle last week mocks the Seattle Public Library for allowing patrons to view hard core Internet pornography in full view of everyone. The opening is just the kind of publicity public libraries shouldn’t want:

The Seattle Public Library has a long list of rules of things you can’t do in the library, to ensure “comfort and safety” of staff and patrons. You can’t eat, sleep, look like you’re sleeping, be barefoot, be too stinky or talk too loudly.

But you can watch graphic porn on a public computer in front of kids.

Ouch.

The list of rules for the library is definitely long, 41 rules under 5 different categories. In addition to not looking like you’re asleep or being too stinky, there are numerous other rules.

For example, it’s forbidden to bring “in items excluding personal items (purse, laptop, briefcase) that occupy floor space in excess of 14″W x17″ H x 20″. Items are measured in totality and must be placed and fit easily into a measuring box of the above dimensions.”

You have to wonder what bizarre patron behavior led to the creation of that rule. The wording alone is weird, since floor space isn’t usually measured by height, but why those specific dimensions? Did someone bring in their own easy chair? And do the librarians really keep a box that size around to put stuff into they think might be too large?

You also can’t gamble in the library. So, according to the library policy, it’s okay to watch some hard core porn on library computers, but it wouldn’t be okay to play online poker. Or is it only in-person gambling? You couldn’t use library tables to play crazy eights for money just like you couldn’t use them to have sex on. Maybe that’s it.

You’re also not allowed to move “Library furniture from where it is placed by Library staff.” Do chairs count as furniture? Usually they would. Are patrons not allowed to move them? What if Library staff placed the chairs so close to tables that no one could sit in them?

This rule is one that seems okay on the surface: “Verbally or physically harassing other patrons, volunteers, or staff, including stalking, staring, or lurking” is forbidden. But wait, does staring really count as “verbal or physical abuse”? It’s creepy, but physically abusive? I can watch all the porn I want, but I can’t stare at someone? Weird. What if I’m staring at them because they’re watching porn?

My favorite violation of the library “rules of conduct” is this one: “Engaging in any activity in violation of a Library policy.” Yes, that’s really on the site. Engaging in any activity in violation of a library policy is a violation of library policy. Glad they spelled that one out!

The head of the ALA OIF defends the Seattle stance on library porn: “”Sometimes, in a library, you’re going to see information that’s going to make you uncomfortable,” she said in an interview.

In the context of the 41 rules of conduct, including the rule not to violate a rule of conduct, that’s an amusing statement, because for the most part all those rules are there to make sure library staff and patrons don’t have to see or smell things that make them uncomfortable.

Now, wait, AL, you might say. She said “information that’s going to make you uncomfortable.” Ahh, information!

The way the ALA defines it, everything is information. If a hard core porn video is “information,” then someone looking like they’re asleep is also information. It informs passersby that the person is sleepy.

Moving a table 6” to the right or bringing in a large box makes the library staff uncomfortable, whereas watching Internet porn doesn’t. So the rules are defined not by what makes patrons uncomfortable, just by what the staff doesn’t like. Nice.

Meanwhile the ACLU is still suing another Washington library for not providing access to porn. Is there a law somewhere saying that libraries have to provide access to Internet porn? Or even that they have to provide Internet access at all? The Washington state supreme court didn’t think so, and the ACLU lost their case there a couple of years ago and is now suing in federal court.

Maybe they can take that case all the way to the U.S. Supreme, where they’ll also most likely lose, with the ALA supporting them all along the way. ALA support for Internet porn seems to guarantee that whatever they oppose will succeed, like CIPA and DOPA.

You’d think libraries would be tired of the bad publicity they get for pretending that letting some pervy guy watch porn in the library is defending “access to information.” Sometimes librarians forget what that really means, and why it’s actually important, and that porn has nothing to do with it.

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Comments

  1. Bob Cunningham says:

    What if I bring a lazy-boy inside of a personal item, such as a briefcase? Could I then sit in my comfortable chair since I can’t adjust the library furniture? Hopefully, because I like to be comfortable when I look at porn.
    On an unrelated note, I can’t believe I went to graduate school to get a library degree. No wonder people smirk when I say I have a master’s degree in library science.

  2. You know I have so much to say about this I don’t really know where to start. Porn or no porn the real issue for me is that the library is telling their patrons what is valuable and not the other way around. Dude, poll the Seattle patrons and do what they want – regardless of what the ALA or any particular librarian thinks. We provide a service to our local community, anything outside of that is crossing our ethical responsibility.

    • Eiz says:

      You mean like mobile services? Patrons in Seattle clearly wanted that, and there was funding, but SPL took the money and still trashed it. That was a service for the local community and the most vulnerable part of it, so why aren’t you making a fuss about that? Or is porn more important to you?

  3. This is a huge nail in the library coffin.

    On 1/18/2012, John Stewart asked about the Wikipedia blackout “what do they expect us to do … go to the library … like a common masturbator?.
    On 2/3/2012, the International Business Times picked up the story, “Library Porn Is Subject of ACLU Lawsuit”. Note the close association of porn with library.
    On 2/6/2012, The Christian Post covered the issue in New York, “NYC Library Criticized for Allowing Porn on Computers”.

    Across a range of spectrums, people are paying attention and thinking critically about this issue. Too bad the ALA and libraries cannot do the same.

    • libscistu says:

      I apologize, I know this adds nothing to the conversation, but I feel I must correct a spelling error. The host of the Daily Show is JON Stewart. There is no “H”, because Jon is short for Jonathan.

      *retreats to nitpicky cave*

    • Formerprof says:

      Hey libscistu. This is your Formerprof. Did I spell “pedantic” correctly?

  4. The Librarian With No Name says:

    The “all items must fit securely in the overhead compartment” rule is pretty common in libraries with a large homeless population. It’s to prevent bag ladies/gentlemen from lugging in the entire contents of their shopping cart and creating a sort of hobo jungle in the current periodicals section. I don’t think it’s usually applied to bright young students with those giant rolling backpacks, which is starkly unfair.

    As for the porn, we’ve got a fairly straightforward prime time rule: if you’re looking at something that couldn’t be shown on network television during prime time, and someone complains or a staff member spots you, you’re getting shut down.

    If a patron complains about someone else viewing material that passes the prime time rule, they are gently fended off and it is hinted that they, Nancy, could profitably lighten up.

    Of course, keeping in mind that they run Victoria’s Secret commercials on network television during prime time, the rule leaves plenty of room for lively debate.

    • ErinAnn says:

      How does that work for legitimate items that still may be offensive? What if I am researching breast cancer? Plastic surgery? Erectile dystfunction? Anatomy charts? All of these subjects contain pictures that can pretty graphic and not allowed in Prime Time.

      Honestly interested. I am a KCLS patron and there is a group of us working to change the rules on porn viewing.

    • ErinAnn says:

      How does that work for legitimate items that still may be offensive? What if I am researching breast cancer? Plastic surgery? Erectile dystfunction? Anatomy charts? All of these subjects contain pictures that can pretty graphic and not allowed in Prime Time.

      Honestly interested. I am a KCLS patron and there is a group of us working to change the rules on porn viewing.

    • @ErinAnn said, “I am a KCLS patron and there is a group of us working to change the rules on porn viewing.” ErinAnn, please contact me if you would like my input.

  5. If we have to let patrons openly watch porn on the library’s computers, why is it okay that we don’t have a section of openly visible pornography/erotica materials in our collections? We are undefendable hypocrites by allowing porn on the computers but not other media. Personally, I would prefer to not allow any openly visible pornography in the library.

  6. Annoyed [State] Librarian says:

    So it is a “Library Specific Violation” to indulge in “disruptive behavior” like “loud talking” or “banging on computer keyboards”…but banging yourself at a computer keyboard is just “information that’s going to make [others] uncomfortable.”

    And it is a “Serious Library Specific Violation” to harass others and make them uncomfortable by staring…unless you’re visually assaulting them by staring at pornographic images in their full view, in which case you’re simply seeking “information that’s going to make [them] uncomfortable” in, apparently, a good way.

    And we wonder why libraries are increasingly irrelevant to so many?

  7. Valkyrie says:

    I’ve got a good idea! Maybe we could have hardcore porn only in written formats – encouraging reluctant readers. Heck, libraries could even have e-porn loaded on their expensive new checkoutable ereaders, just words of course. Why not have a special porn cutter and shelf location too? Especially if the content is on the edge of illegal and the writing is at or below the standard 8th grade level, I bet we’d get some circulation out of it. Then we could say we’re “engaging a new population of readers” that will no doubt go on to check out War and Peace.

    • Anon says:

      We do have hardcore porn in written formats. It’s called urban fiction. Have you ever tried to read a Zane novel?

      Not surprisingly, it’s one of our most-checked out genres. (I say “most-checked out” instead of “highest circulating” because it’s rare that urban fiction books are actually returned to the library.)

  8. Nonamouse says:

    Countdown to FOX news-like rant from Safe Libraries guy in 3, 2, 1…

    • Andrew says:

      That was my first thought when I saw this story breaking earlier in the week.

    • Kim says:

      Safe Libraries must be asleep or out of the country.

    • Kim says:

      Ohh, whoops, He did comment, but considering the topic, I thought the comment would be longer. I’ve been to the Seattle Public Library and it’s huge, like a large convention center. I don’t think it would be possible to monitor the hundreds of computers they have available to the public.

  9. me says:

    I honestly don’t understand the purpose of allowing people to view porn on public computers. I’m glad that we don’t, if we see someone watching porn we tell them quite loudly that it is inappropriate content for the public library and inform them that “Their library privileges are at risk”. This usually embarrasses them enough to stop and if we catch them again they are banned. The police support us in this 100%. They can go jerk off at home.

  10. D says:

    The AL touches upon how the American Library Association uses the word “information” in manipulative manner. They will use the word in one sense and then another without ever letting on that they have changed the subject. They’ll suggest that libraries provide access to information, in the everyday sense of the word, roughly meaning something like “knowledge.” And in this sense, libraries do provide access to information. Then they slip into the sense of the word as it’s used in phrases such as “information science,” which is closer to something like “data.” The difference is nuanced, but important. In the traditional sense of the word, meaning is critical. IN the second sense of the word, meaning is irrelevant. This is how they try to explain why providing access to pornography makes sense.

    Libraries provide access to information in the traditional sense of the word, but not in the mathematical sense of the word. We collect and make accessible the best of human knowledge. We do not collect and make accessible every piece of data without considering its meaning and value. By suggesting that libraries do both, the ALA removes from libraries the responsibility to evaluate what they provide via the internet. Pornography then is just “information,” neutral bits and bites. James Gleick’s book “The Information” is very informative on this subject.

  11. The saddest part of this all story is the way the child has been permanently damaged as a result of the library/ALA policy. Listen for yourselves at how really bad this is: http://www.wgntv.com/videogallery/67766500/News/Library-porn-complaint

    The second saddest part of this story, as that video shows, is that the victim’s mother, that particular victim’s mother, has been totally taken in by the library’s lies. She will not be brining suit, unless here mind clears from the misinformation. I will be writing about this soon.

    Anyone care to start an effort to stop more children from being victimized by library policy, ALA diktat, and governmental inaction that allows this type of crime to continue?

    In the meantime, here is what hero Dean Marney said in the past about ALA “dogma” promoting porn: http://tinyurl.com/ALADogma

    • Winston says:

      Hey libraEwoman, Of course we can define pornography – pornography is sexual material that lacks artistic and literary merit. Was that so hard? Who gets to decide what is pornography and what is not? That’s just as easy to answer – librarians get to decide which potential library materials are pornographic and which are not. We’re supposed to by skilled at building collections and making decisions about materials is our responsibility.

  12. librarEwoman says:

    The big question is, how do we define porn? I’ve often heard this definition: “I can’t really define it, but I know it when I see it.” Isn’t that too subjective to be a working definition? Before you ban something from a public space, you need to be able to clearly define it. Porn in the format of imagery on the computer is more high-visibility, so it gets all of the attention. There are plenty of books out there that contain descriptions of graphic sexual scenes. And, as Anon says, these get checked-out quite frequently. Should these fall under the definition of porn and be banned? I don’t support viewing sexually explicit imagery in public spaces– especially with children around. Neither do I support viewing explicit imagery of the violent variety in such a context. But for some reason, we don’t hear people complaining that their children were exposed to electronic images of people being shot, blown up, or bludgeoned. Why is that? What does this say about our culture?

    • The insights “D” offered help answer your question, I think.

      A library mission based around collecting and making “accessible the best of human knowledge” is a quality filter that will screen out much of the content you mentioned.

      The mission libraries seem to have adopted, to be just one of the places offering free wi-fi & computer access (like most retail and commercial establishments do these days), brings a whole bunch of dilemmas with it.

  13. noutopianlibrarian says:

    @librarEwoman “But for some reason, we don’t hear people complaining that their children were exposed to electronic images of people being shot, blown up, or bludgeoned. Why is that? What does this say about our culture?”

    It says that we remain the same confused, violent, and sexually repressed culture that has traditionally (and often violently) repressed and persecuted women, minorities, and those sexual practices that fall outside of traditional hetero marraige-sanctioned ones. The confusion and dysfunction of the culture express themselves in many ways – glorifying violence and tolerating women-centered porn being among them. ALA won’t change this – they are as confused as anyone else though the ideals are noble. This won’t keep them, as well as libraries who try to live up to those ideals, from being dragged in the mud.

  14. bibliophile says:

    Unfortunately, it is legal to look at porn in NH libraries. I can’t even ask them to leave the building. What needs to be changed, if that is what society wants, is the law. Until that happens we are caught in a conundrum.

    • Bibliophile – you echo the helpless sentiment quoted by librarians in the press coverage on this, and I just don’t understand it.

      “Me” in comment #9 doesn’t allow it in her/his library. Sounds like me and colleagues have a strong sense of the place they want to be — and the common sense to know that people who engage in that activity probably don’t have the ambition or brains to mount a legal challenge.

      And, if libraries hands are so tied, why not raise it as a public issue and agitate for change? A significant percentage of patrons, volunteers and Friends are women and children and there’s an argument to be made that pornography is harmful to them. As a society, we’ve limited smoking in public places because the health of the many has been deemed to outweigh the personal pleasures of the few. What makes this issue so different?

      Surely it would be easy to put the case to the public that financially supports you? I find it really hard to believe people who pay taxes to fund their libraries would push back on your attempts to not use their money to provide pornography to people under any circumstances, let alone to people who who probably aren’t contributing to the community and paying taxes themselves.

    • The dude says:

      Bibliophile, while it may be legal to view pornography in the library, it’s almost certainly also legal to ban the viewing of pornography in the library. While he law doesn’t need to be changed, your library’s policy should be.

  15. Paigers says:

    Watching “porn” (whatever your definition) =/= masturbating in public.

  16. Kenny says:

    I think the ultimate intellectual-freedom defense for allowing people to watch porn is the slippery slope argument: it may not be that large a step (for some) from telling people they cannot watch hardcore porn to blocking out Rubens nudes. If you draw the line for what is acceptable at a pretty extreme end, then you give yourself a pretty wide buffer zone to protect more worthwhile content.

    But I also think that from a legal point of view, how are we really to separate lugubrious material from artistic representations, things that do convey information or artistic value from materials that have no value? For many of us, it’s easy to see why porn is so distasteful and lacking substance, but taste is not something that can nor should be legislated.

    • Kenny says:

      correction: salacious, not lugubrious

    • The dude says:

      It’s too bad that you’re counting on the slippery slope defense, because it’s a logical fallacy. To save space here, I invite you to google “slippery slope is a logical fallacy.” You’d be wise to find a better argument.

      I hope that you’re not being fully honest, otherwise you’re the first man I’ve met who was so unfamiliar with pornography and art that you cannot tell one from the other. If this is true, I hope that you do not have any collection development responsibilities.

    • Kenny says:

      @The dude There is nothing fallacious about claiming a slippery slope argument here. Censorship against a general category of pornography could easily allow suppression of other forms of speech that may or may not be pornography depending on who the judge is. It wasn’t that long ago that even in progressive Western democracies obscenity laws prevented the publication and distribution of controversial literature and works of art. Just Google the publication history of the Tropic of Capricorn.

      Certainly, my argument is not as sweeping as Tolstoy’s slippery slope claim about human nature in “The Power of Darkness”, in which one small transgression has the power to lead people to murder and other serious crimes.

      I never claimed that I personally did not have strong opinions about what pornography is or is not. I said that crafting such a distinction would be difficult to enshrine in law. And that is the blunt instrument that we have to consider when talking about information access at the library.

  17. Public Librarian says:

    At one public library where I worked, 2 teens would spend their daily internet time looking at sites showing guns for sale. They would print out pictures of Glocks, AK47 rifles, etc. They also liked to look at a site that showed photos of people who had been murdered. Since they weren’t looking at porn, we had to leave them alone. I personally found this more disturbing than porn viewing.

  18. Skipbear says:

    I’m pretty convinced that public libraries will eventually vanish just like Blockbuster video. Just not quite as fast.

  19. This story still has legs. There was an OpEd in today’s Orange County Register that concluded “Nobody should have the Seattle experience of shocking their children, nor of having librarians who are indifferent to the problem.

    • @Jean Costello, yes, I agree. That OpEd was written by Ernest Istook, the author of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. It appeared in numerous outlets across the country. Basically, he said the ALA is misleading many communities nationwide resulting in continued harm to children.

      One would think the CIPA author saying the ALA is thwarting CIPA, particularly given the ALA’s big loss in US v. ALA, would be a major story in honest media.

      Predictably, not a single main stream library media source has covered that story. The author of CIPA says the ALA is misleading communities, and CIPA is central to the ALA’s main office, the OIF, the place where ALA spends most of its money for lawsuits, and the library world is silent. No articles in American Libraries? Nothing in Library Journal? School Library Journal, hello?

      Nothing.

      When you ignore a story so it WON’T have legs, that’s a part of the propaganda game.

  20. StupidLikeAFox says:

    If it’s illegal content (ie. child pornography) the patron has every right to complain and the librarians have every right to deny them access and report them to the authorities.

    If its legal but objectionable material than is there really a legal leg to stand on? If we’re filtering porn sites, what about graphic violence? It’s still an image visible to all, and could be said to traumatize kids. It is indeed a slipperly slope.

    Also, it’s not that difficult to troubleshoot around filters. I distinctly remember finding ways to get around them in high school. Privacy screens and strategic placement of computer workstations are probably the best solutions.