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Author Topic: Librarians on Internet porn
Dzuunmod
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What should people be able to look at on the Internet in the library? As always, this link is good for the next week. As such, I'll summarize:

Apparently, a fierce debate is raging among Canada's librarians right now on this topic, and it's proving to be somewhat divisive. On the one hand, some librarians have started complaining that they have a right to work in environment where they aren't being constantly harassed - and porn, they say, is harassment. On the other hand, some librarians argue that no porn can be censored, because this can lead to the censoring of other things - things like the Web site you're seeing now, and they argue that it's impossible to censor the porn sites without catching some legitimate ones, as well. Basically, the union thinks that something has to be done to protect the rights of its employees, while the library trade association supports all manner of free speech.

So what's the solution? In the United States, the solution so far has been the Children's Internet Protection Act. It was passed in December, and it requires all libraries that receive federal funding to place some kind of filter on the computers.

In Canada, some library systems (like those in Ottawa and Toronto) have been filtering computers designated for under 18 use, but leaving the adult ones untouched.

---

It's interesting to me that the argument in this country, for the most part, isn't about protecting children, but about protecting librarians. As one woman quoted in the article says, "protecting diversity is a core value of librarianship". She believes that librarians should expect to see material that they'll find offensive - it's part of the job.

Now, does anyone know if the law in the US requires filters that restrict access to violent Web sites or racist Web sites? If it doesn't, then I'd have to say that the whole bit about 'protecting children' is baloney.

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You can twist his body 'til it faces backwards/Those plastic features/You could make somebody a pretty little wife/But don't let anybody tell you how to live your life.
-Elvis Costello, Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)

(Just fixed your link! )

[This message has been edited by KittenGoddess (edited 02-10-2003).]


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kellykapowski
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Well, I worked at a library for about 5 years, and have seen the issue really (too) close-up. Porn is so problematic. Besides the fact that people would masturbate to it AT THE LIBRARY, and we'd have to kick them out, little kids would see it, or old men would ask little girls to help them with something and then show it to them. It was insane how many times while I worked there men exposed themselves to young girls at the LIBRARY. Because of these things, I am inclined to say, no porn at libraries. It's too dangerous--kids can walk past and see it, and to be honest, in my experience, the people who are bold enough to look at porn out in the open in a library have often been people who would cross other boundaries with other patrons. I don't know if computer nanny programs are the solution, but kicking people out if a librarian walks by and sees it makes perfect sense to me.
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Heather
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So, can you define porn, then, Kelly, in terms of what shouldn't be seen there? And how that would work in terms of how filtering software works?

(And Kelly, I don't mean to second-guess you at all, but I'm earnestly curious at what library what you're describing -- the flashing, the showing of porn to small girls -- has occurred in to such volume, and if it has, why I haven't heard about these sorts of cases, simply because I have not.)

And Dzuun, to my knowledge, the US does NOT require filters to filter out sites which contain violence or profound racism. And indeed, the way the filters work (by keywords) it is indeed immpossible to use them just to filer out "porn" without filtering out other nonerotic material. Sites like Scarleteen, for instance. I remember years back seeing some demonstrations with filters set to filter out sex, and things like Bronte's Jane Eyre in ebook were ending up getting tossed into the batch.


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logic_grrl
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I believe there was an infamous example at one point where one piece of "nanny" software which worked on a keyword basis was found to filter out online breast cancer support groups (since they contained the word "breast" ...).
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cupcake
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MY library is one of the ones getting torn apart by this issue.

And I live in Ottawa- we currently do not have a filter system for under-18 computers (I've never HEARD of us even having under 18 computers!)

One proposal is to issue a swipe card fro under-18 users, and that would activate a filter. But for some reason this counts as invading privacy....

And I frankly don't think porn SHOULD be viewable on library computers. Why? Because anybody who passes by, either staff or users, is going to have to see those sites. And THAT invades their righ to not have to see it.

Part of this argument came up in the first place becasue some librarians didn't feel comfortable at work- and THAT's why I disagree with it.


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logic_grrl
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quote:
And I frankly don't think porn SHOULD be viewable on library computers. Why? Because anybody who passes by, either staff or users, is going to have to see those sites. And THAT invades their righ to not have to see it.

What about other material that people might not want to see, though? For example, how about photographic evidence of war atrocities, or medical textbooks or websites that contain close-up photos of skin diseases or surgery?

Many people don't exactly want to see those things, either. Should people should be banned from using libraries to do medical or historical research, just in case someone pass by and happens to glance over their shoulder?

There are some people who would consider a diagram like the one at http://www.scarleteen.com/body/female_anatomy_2.html to be "pornographic". If someone who feels that way is working as a librarian, should they be able to demand that nobody be able to access Scarleteen on the library computers as it "invades their right not to have to see it"?

And this is a very real issue - many existing filter systems ban sites like Scarleteen. So someone who isn't wealthy enough to have a home computer may not be able to access the site at all.

My point is that saying that everyone has the right to be protected from seeing anything that might potentially upset them may be a much, much bigger deal that you think.


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Heather
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You know, I don't like to see billboards for pro-life factions which I find totally offensive, and which make me angry and often, sick to my stomach.

But I recognize that those billboards are in public places -- such as the library is -- and whatever my own feelings about them, they've got as much right to be there as anyone else, and that disallowing any one thing I find distasteful means disallowing lots of things I not only don't find distatsteful, but which need to be protected as far as civil liberties are concerned.

Most librarians are very, very staunch defenders of these liberties, and for many of them, that is WHY they work in libraries, because libraries have long been a bastion of protection for freedoms of expression and information.

I think too, it's worth asking, again, exactly what is so offensive or traumatizing about the human body, or about people engaged in sex. And perhaps worth taking that a step further and asking why some view those things as MORE offesnive or traumatic than overy violence, than racist or neo-nazi sites, than Focus on the family's website, for example, than medical research or photographs, et cetera.

...and in turn, asking if that isn't something we need to repair, rather than hide away so that people don't have to deal with their own baggage when it comes to sexuality.


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nacarter
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This is a difficult issue and the points for and against filtering are good. I wouldn't recommend filtering for the reasons that have already been mentioned. Instead, I would use the library's Acceptable Use Policy to control user activity. In many cases, the content being viewed on-screen is obviously 'pornographic', in that it is content that should not be viewed by minors. The AUP could then be invoked and the user sanctioned.

For material that is 'graphic' and may be offensive to some viewers (this may include material that has educational merit), the onus could be placed on the user to justify the viewing of such material in a public location. It would then be up to the library's discretion whether the user should be allowed to continue. The challenge in using discretion of course is the myriad of opinion in what is acceptable and what isn't. When developing an AUP, a list of justified uses could be developed and used as a guide when this situation arises.


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cupcake
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Heck, I'm an unabashed porn watcher! in my own home, though.

My objection is solely to the idea of it being in the workplace. At work, I have the right not be attacked (hey! those customers can get violent!), subject to harassment, and the right to basically, feel safe.
If that's happening in my workplace, nacarter's right- the onus should be on the other person to prove they have a legitamate research reason to be doing that.


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Dzuunmod
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But, do the people at the library reading Sports Illustrated have a legitimate research reason?

If people need to justify what they're doing in the library, the library loses a big part of its purpose.

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...and we raise the white flag, so they can paint it red and blue!
-Joel Plaskett, True Patriot Love


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a_c_munson
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to be honest I don't see why the internet should be accessible from the public library.
But assuming that it is available Why not have a adult only section where only adults can use the computers and a children’s section that is for kids and people with kids for there use. Most cities require "adult movies and magazines" to be out of the hands of children, why would the library be any different.

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Heather
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But what if, cupcake, the nature of your workplace is such that part of it's reason for being is to promote free and accessible media and information?

And if pornography being available (still waiting to have someone who thinks it shouldn't be in libraries define porn for me, btw) or visible is harassment, how are copies of Mein Kampf, or Cosmopolitan or Huck Finn going to fare in terms of some groups finding THOSE materials to be harassing or offensive?

In other words, what might public libraries turn into if any given material or genre is erased (and it's worth noting that the primary reasons most libraries don't carry most sexual literature is simply because they are stolen too often, according to an ALA conference on such I spoke at years back) should readers or staffers find it "harassing"?


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Milke
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Porn (and in this situation, I'm going to define it as material that exists to be arousing, rather than to aid research) is inappropriate on library computers because it's a waste of time when there are only limited resources. Quite simply, if there are only so many computers, or so much internet time, it's more important to have them available for reference use than for something that should really be done at home anyway. Sexuality's a fascinating thing, and there's a heck of a lot about it that's worthy of research; it should be legitimate to use library resources for such ends. Titillation and masturbation, however, belong at home, or in places specifically designated for them (strip clubs, say), not in public places like libraries. I agree with nacarter on how such policies should be enforced.

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Milke, with an L, SSBD, RATS, TMNTP, MF

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...Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to


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Heather
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But where is the line in the sand drawn?

In other words, can I read Anais Nin or Collette in the library? Can I look at Maplethorpe's photos or at Bunny Yeagers or Nan Goldins? What if I'm looking at something for study or research which I also happen to find sexually stimulating?

Could I read my own site (which contains literature, sexuality information, a journal but also fine art nudes and erotic photographs)? I know I have users who do, and who have seen others reading it at the library.

And I agree, what nacarter is suggesting sounds sound to me (and that the library isn't an appropriate place to masturbate), but I'm willing to bet that that sort of solution would not be found satisfactory with some of the objectors, or even most, and I can see inherent problems in it as well.

[This message has been edited by Miz Scarlet (edited 05-02-2003).]


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kellykapowski
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To Miz Scarlet:

The library I worked at is a small public library in a college town in Ohio. These things happened a few times a year--I was a circulation clerk, and the youngest one at the desk, and often we are the people children will talk to when things like this happen. The reference department and the supervisor are the ones supposed to handle problems like this--we aren't allowed to--and they are in charge of kicking people off of the computers. In my opinion, they let a lot of people get away with a lot of shit, and I always wanted these people kicked out. They very, very rarely were. Also, being at the circulation desk, the printer to all the computers was behind our desk, so people had to come up to us to get what they printed and pay for each page, and there were of course regulars who printed out porn for five cents a page, and we had to sell it to them page by page, so we always saw it. It made a lot of us uncomfortable (the whole desk staff was female--our supervisor was male, though). a lot of the things that happened were from the same guys several times--this one man used to leave beastiality up on the computer every time he left, and since kids used the computer most of the time, they were the ones to report it. During one of the years I was there, there was a flasher, and also someone else who exposed himself to a young girl once. And no, our supervisor very rarely involved the police, and the girls didn't like talking to him but he didn't take us very seriously very often (one of the reasons I do not work there anymore). I think one of the biggest problems is that the computers are so public--a picture one person has up on the screen will be seen by the group of pre-teens at the tables by the young adult reference desk. I would say that anything where you have to click you are over 18 to enter should not be in a public place like that, where children can see it. Because they can, and they do. I realize the obvious problems with censorship, or with the "breast cancer" example that came up at staff meetings all the time (the library is still debating this issue--there are no censors right now, and people no longer have to sign a list of internet rules to get online, so that isn't there to fall back on in these cases). But, it sucks working at the library and having to, as my job, see "hot teen pussy" and hand it to a man staring at my boobs. And that happened quite often, having to hand that stuff out page by page.

Weird, weird stuff DOES happen at libraries. People try to have sex in the stacks; men expose themselves to girls; it's a place where anyone can go, and where there are always kids, usually without parents. There are those guys that just sit and stare the whole time, or try to pick girls up, or whatever, and it's a very convenient place for that stuff to happen. I started working there when I was 14, and I worked in the stacks as a page at first; I had a lot of experiences with scary guys when I was back there. It does happen a lot because of how public it is. I'm not linking that to porn but just to say, don't second guess this experience. Libraries really are weird places a lot of the time, and lots of stuff happens at them, at least at my library, to me and my co-workers...but it's all part of the service.


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Heather
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Thanks for the background on that, Kelly.
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kellykapowski
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No problem.

Just to add something I forgot, a lot of the problems are the way the departments function separately from each other. Like, if we heard in circulation that someone flashed somebody, we would write up an incident report, turn it in, and it was out of our hands at that point. Legally, we couldn't talk about this stuff with anyone outside of work, and if the director wanted to involve the police, that was HIS call. And our director never wanted to put that stuff out for the public to see--most of the incident reports just died there. Girls wouldn't want to talk to HIM about it, and I don't blame them. But there were always things that happened that the board, primarily, never heard about--only he could share that information, or maybe a senior reference person, but not us. I can only think of two occasions involving sexual harrassment (the repeated flasher, and once a guy who exposed himself) were taken to the police, and nothing happened to the second guy, just the first. There were a lot of other incidents where the girls just stopped coming to the library for awhile, but it sucked for us, because we knew who these guys were and what they did, and still had to wait on them if we got stuck with it.

So anyways, libraries, you wouldn't think, would you? I didn't.


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emsily0
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yeah, at my local library it seems like there is a "library flasher" or something like that that makes the local newspaper's police blotter about once a year.

but i'm not really sure what that has to do with allowing porn in libraries, so i think we should turn back to the original question: should porn be in libraries?

em


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cupcake
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Actually, Miz S, Mein Kampf was banned from Chapters. As hate literature.

I would have to find it harassing if I have no choice but to be subjected to it, and it happens frequently.


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nacarter
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While I agree that libraries are havens of free expression, it should be noted that many libraries restrict computer use to that of a reference nature only. This automatically restricts what can and can't be done online.

That said, almost anything can be legitimately justified as research oriented. For instance, I could be doing a project on the proliferation of pornography on the internet and could use graphic imagery to illustrate my thesis. Anyone who has done research on this type of topic knows full well that graphic imagery can be offensive to some especially if we are sharing resources. For that reason, a responsible researcher would contact library staff in advance and outline what they have in mind. The library can then make the necessary arrangments to allow access while limiting discomfort to other patrons and staff. For instance, most libraries have at least one room that could be set aside for such a purpose.

These kind of issues are usually tackled in an introductory Research Methods course, something all legitimate researchers have to take at one point or another. It isn't unfair to assume that a person who hasn't communicated with the library about the content they plan to use on library property is likely not viewing for a scholarly reason. As such, the library has full right to invoke the Acceptable Use Policy and terminate the user's privelges.


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Dzuunmod
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But again, we have to ask, what is and isn't research, and what the purpose of community (as opposed to academic) libraries is.

If community libraries are only about research, then why are there children's sections? Why are there romance novels? Why are there magazines about cars and make-up and fashion?

If I don't have Internet access at home, shouldn't I be able to go to the library and read newspapers from around the world online, not for specific research, but just for my own pleasure and information? Shouldn't I be able to access my email for personal reasons from the library? Shouldn't I be able to search for job postings online at the library if I am unemployed?

If you think I should be able to do anyone of these things, it makes the argument about limiting computers to research purposes pretty tough to make. And from there, it's a slippery slope all the way down to porn.

I think that you've either got to allow everything, or nothing - and get rid of the Internet altogether. If you make exceptions and regulations, people will find ways to exploit them and consequently, waste the library's time. Libraries funded by public money shouldn't consider one person's 'research' more important than another person's leisure.

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...and we raise the white flag, so they can paint it red and blue!
-Joel Plaskett, True Patriot Love


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nacarter
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It should also be kept in mind that public funding does not mean that users can do whatever they want. The uses that you name are legitimate public uses. Limiting the viewing of pornography is still justifiable though.

Viewing pornography is legal (if you are of age). So is having sex. But I can't go out and have sex in the fountain of my town square. Laws were created in order to maintain certain community standards. These laws didn't ban people from having sex, they merely restricted where this activity takes place. The same concept can be applied to my earlier idea. I'm not banning the viewing of pornography, I am restricting the circumstances whereby this activity takes place. The protection of the interests and children and staff is sufficient to warrant such restrictions and courts have long upheld this idea as long as the public need for such action can be justified.


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Heather
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I have to say, I'm tending to agree with Dzuunmod.

The thing is, the library is a public place. So, existing laws about such would apply, such as not masturbating in public, etc.

Why are those laws not enough in and of themselves?

And why -- oh why -- is it, continually, that talks about making certain materials or genres unavailable always are around sex? If it's because people can't handle themselves in regards to sex, that says to me we need cultural changes in making sex MORE normal, not less.

We're got just as much evidence, if not more so, that people can't handle violence, yet the same arguments aren't made or considered, which strikes me as a stunning irony because violence is by it's nature destructive, whereas sex is, by its nature, the very opposite.

(And cupcake, I'm earnestly sad to hear of any book bannings. If someone can't see Mein Kampf, for instance, theyt aren't going to be able to get a full perspective for what was going on then and learn good lessons from it.)


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Dzuunmod
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quote:
Originally posted by nacarter:
It should also be kept in mind that public funding does not mean that users can do whatever they want. The uses that you name are legitimate public uses. Limiting the viewing of pornography is still justifiable though.

Viewing pornography is legal (if you are of age). So is having sex. But I can't go out and have sex in the fountain of my town square. Laws were created in order to maintain certain community standards. These laws didn't ban people from having sex, they merely restricted where this activity takes place. The same concept can be applied to my earlier idea. I'm not banning the viewing of pornography, I am restricting the circumstances whereby this activity takes place. The protection of the interests and children and staff is sufficient to warrant such restrictions and courts have long upheld this idea as long as the public need for such action can be justified.


These are all fair points, but at the heart of this question is that sticky question: how do we define pornography?

Is pornography nudity? Well, I can see nudity in plenty of photography books, art exhibits and even newspapers that most people would agree are fit for under-18 consumption.

Is pornography two naked people touching? Does it only begin at oral/anal/penetrative sex?

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...and we raise the white flag, so they can paint it red and blue!
-Joel Plaskett, True Patriot Love


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shine
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I think pornography should be veiwable in public libraries. The filters that screen for not only do not always work, but also (as people have said) block other informational sites that should be available to anyone.
My libraries have a children's section - and at my local library both that section and various others have computers. The computers in the childrens section have filters, the others do not. That seems to work fairly well.

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