Incident at the Seattle Public Library

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    Although this didn’t happen in West Seattle, it could happen anywhere, and WSB’s editors suggested I write about it here:

    I was at the Lake City Library with my two daughters (7 & 10 years old) at 4:45 on Sunday, January 22, 2012. I left them in the children’s section and went to look through the movie section, where I noticed that a man was watching hard core pornography (including anal penetration & other adult content) on a computer where the screen was facing out into the library. I told the librarian and asked for help in having him move to a more discreet location. She could see the screen from the information desk where we were standing and was sympathetic, but said that the library doesn’t censor content and they can’t be in the business of monitoring what their patrons are doing at any given computer. I then asked the man to please move to another computer. He declined. In the process of this interaction, I didn’t notice that my daughters had wandered over looking for me and one of them saw what was playing on the screen.

    I have had extensive conversations with the library about this incident as well as with the police and local representatives. The man’s right to access constitutionally protected information is fully protected (which I’m not in argument with) but our right not to be inadvertent viewers is not. The library is apologetic, but devoted to its guiding principle of supporting intellectual freedom, and I detected no urgency to ensure that not one more child is exposed to pornography in a Seattle Public Library.

    I told the library that I will do my best to get this in the public forum as people need to know what’s going on and the potential risks to them and their children of being exposed to adult content while visiting the library. Please help us have a public discussion on this issue as I am sure that the library can create a safer space for children (and adults) and not infringe on another adult’s right to information.


    Julie Howe

    Seattle, WA 98125



    Wow! And here I thought what happened at the King County Library in Burien last week was bad. Libraries aren’t what they use to be are they?



    luckymom30 – do tell…. I use the Burien library a great deal with my 2 toddlers, would be interested to know what you’re referring to.



    Disturbing to say the least.

    What would the Police Departments position be if the guy was sitting on a bench reading a pornographic magazine? OK behavior because the content is protected? I think I might risk an assault charge and drag him out of there by his neck.



    Wait til you find out what the NEA wants to put in the school curriculum! I am ok with the library carrying the content… but move the damn computer! BTY…, the Motion Picture Association rating system. Is it not illegal to allow under 17 to view such content? The rating system is voluntary… what would happen to a movie theater they let a 10 year old in to view Debbie Does Dallas?




    I can’t see what people are looking at on library computers unless I am standing still, directly behind them, and at the same eye level.

    The kid’s area at the West Seattle Library has no view of internet computers.

    The kid’s room at the Central downtown library has only filtered internet.



    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I don’t believe you, Julie. Or at least, I don’t believe your version of this incident, in all details.

    FWIW: Seattle Public Library’s Internet policy use page is here:

    On that page, it says:


    Library computers and wi-fi may not be used for any illegal activity including, but not limited to:

    [ . . . ]

    • Displaying, printing or sending any material that is obscene, libelous, threatening or harassing.

    If there were kids walking back and forth within view of Internet porn, and you brought it to the librarian’s attention, I feel pretty sure the librarian would have done something about it.

    However, if you want to give us the librarian’s first name and work phone number, I’ll call the Lake City Library and check on this myself.


    David Preston

    Seattle, WA 98106





       Member since: January 31, 2012 (1 hour)

       No other threads started.



    I’ve never worked as a librarian in a public library. Because I work for a private institution, the rules are somewhat different. However, since I work for an academic institution and people may be looking at disturbing things for research purposes, the policy at my workplace is to find the researcher a secluded place to work so that others aren’t disturbed (the working example that I can recall was a student who was researching hate groups for a class assignment. You can imagine what the websites of some of those groups are like).

    STRANGELY enough, pornography in libraries has arisen as an issue before. So to speak. There’s even been a Supreme Court case about it.

    Kootch, the MPAA has sweet F.A. to do with libraries.

    Libraries aren’t what they used to be? Well, no, but the first time I was sexually harassed was while working in one in high school. Libraries may not be what they used to be, but people definitely are.



    GAnative: Thank you for that… interesting, I was there with my kids early that afternoon and there were quite a few teenagers outside and in the lobby — it had a very different feel to it then our morning story-time days.



    We were on our way to the Burien library that same day and around that time, we did see a crowd of kids hanging around the dollar tree store. After problems inside the library that the staff tried to handle we only go there rarely. As for anyone including these kids if they want respect they have to earn it and treat others with respect.



    A few years ago I was at the downtown library and walked by the computers and observed a man watching pornography on a computer that was sitting out in the open where anyone could see it and I thought that was distasteful since anyone could walk by. I thought if you are going to view porno do it at a computer where you have a little bit of privacy.



    I can’t even believe it! I can’t believe 1. anyone would watch porn in a library 2. that the library would permit it



    I can believe it. Libraries have always been at the forefront of intellectual freedom. They will not dictate what information people can access. It truly is a slippery slope. You can find the foundation of their guidelines here:

    They also will protest book bans and access to your library records– not even your spouse can ask them what book you checked out with your card. This issue has come up in the news every few years. They do have privacy screens and try to design the library so not everyone can see you accessing what you want, from porn to your bank information. I appreciate the work libraries have done on both a local and national level to preserve my access to information, even though I may not agree with others may want to access.

    On a side note, I do not leave my son in the kids toy section at target or the candy aisle in the store while I go grab something. I wouldn’t do it at the library.



    Thanks for the info Caliann.



    The legal history on pornography and libraries is mixed. The case usually cited is U.S. v. ALA from 2003, where the Supreme Court upheld the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This requires that libraries install filtering software–but only if they are received certain types of federal funding. The reason a lot of libraries DON’T use filtering software is that it is notoriously heavy handed in filtering out non-pornographic sites (such as awareness and support sites on breast cancer).

    Pornography is not considered protected speech, but it’s largely been left up to individual libraries to decide how to cope with that. Some have decided that since filtering software could violate the First Amendment, they aren’t going to use it. A recent decision by the Washington State Supreme Court might change that, however, at least in this state.

    Caliann: my mother remembers having to ask at the circulation desk for Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 1950s, and you couldn’t check it out if you were under 18. Such policies are now the exception rather than the rule.



    The real issue here is NOT whether SPL should allow porn viewing on their computers. (That may indeed be an issue, but it’s not the one the OP raised.) The issue is whether the Lake City library took appropriate action to address julie.howe’s concern.

    Ms. Howe is asking us to get up in arms about this, but, as I said, I’m skeptical of her story. In fact, it sounds to me like a classically incendiary post. I don’t believe that the librarians there would simply brush off a patron’s complaint about intrusive porn by saying “we don’t censor patrons.” That just doesn’t jibe with my long years of experience with librarians at SPL.

    If Ms. Howe is willing to come back on here and tell us whom she talked to at the Lake City library, and give us a phone number to call, then I’ll be happy to make that call and report back. If she’s not willing to do at least that much work, however, or if she’s not willint to expose her claims to scrutiny, then I shall consider her a fire-starter.

    And so should you.




    It is interesting that it’s her only post.




    Satisfied? she’s a teacher. maybe the library is in the wrong here. I would guess after this response she certainly wont bother posting in this pack of wolves anymore. Everyone had to post for the first time once. It’s not fair to vilify someone just because it’s their first post – it might be their first post of many. Had I gotten this reception when I made my first post I would have never come back.



    and it is only her side of the story with no comment from that library, so we still don’t know both sides of what happened.




    Interesting that you should use the term “pitchforks,” HM. Isn’t that exactly what the OP was asking us to do: grab our pitchforks?

    And since we’re on the topic, what was your first post?

    —If it was about some moral outrage or other, AND you were complaining about something that happened outside of West Seattle, AND you were asking the rest of us to get up in arms over it then, yes, you would have been similarly trounced. And rightly so.

    I give the greatest amount of creedance to bloggers whom I’ve heard from before (or whom I’ve met personally) and who have established a modicum of credibility on this Blog.

    I give the least amount of creedance to first-timers who try to push our panic buttons.

    This doesn’t mean I always disbelieve the OP’s claims out of hand. It just means that I’m going to be very skeptical of them.



    Guys, I invited her to post here. If you want this forum to die, go ahead and be hostile to new people who post. We point people here from a variety of venues where they reach us – Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, phone – because we would like to see this continue to be a vibrant place of discussion, with new people coming in and joining or starting conversations.

    She e-mailed every neighborhood site in the city, saying that she had taken this as far as she could in the SPL system and wanted to make sure people knew about it, even though she didn’t expect SPL to change its position.

    I e-mailed to ask her some followups and to tell her that since it didn’t happen here, I wasn’t going to write a story but I invited her to post here AND TO PREFACE WITH THE FACT I HAD EXTENDED THE INVITATION.

    She is on the radio this hour talking with KUOW about it.

    The Stranger also has written about it. I was kind of hoping that it would be discussed here, NOT that she would be insulted. I have deleted one post flat out calling her a troll.

    There are some first-time posters that are obviously not legit, like spam, and I appreciate those flags. But if someone goes so far as to even note they’ve conferred with us, will you at least give them the benefit of the doubt, or flag me so I can evaluate? – Tracy




    More details = More Benefit of Doubt

    Lack of same = Healthy Skepticism

    But thanks for telling us that you “invited” this person to post. That’s useful info.



    This was just being discussed on KUOW, too.

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