Incident at the Seattle Public Library

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    I don’t see a problem with the original post. It didn’t happen in West Seattle, but we certainly have SPL branches here that would follow the same policies.

    Always better to know about this kind of thing – regardless of your opinions on them – than be completely oblivious about it. Especially if you take your kids to the library – at least you know that it could happen and make decisions based on knowing that ahead of time.

    I also wouldn’t equate asking for a public discussion about it to a call to grab our pitchforks.

    Oh, did I mention that awesome new diet class I’ve been taking? ;)



    So your kids would not have seen what this guy was looking at on the computer if you had not been there scolding him and they had to come looking for you? Spend more time supervising your kids instead of what an adult is doing on a computer. There is tons of adult content for children to find in a library, if you were truly concerned you would be supervising your children.



    And mention of “hardcore pornography” would have sufficed. Did you need to really clarify that it was anal penetration? I don’t remember ever seeing that phrase used on this blog but in this case it’s okay I guess.



    I didn’t think I had a pitchfork, but perhaps I gave that impression. If so, I apologize as that was not my intent. I’d have liked to see her come back and give a bit more information, particularly whether she’d escalated beyond the branch level.

    My other comments were intended to provide some context for how incidents like this occur, not question whether the incident happened.




    “All users are asked to respect the privacy of other users and not attempt to censor or comment upon what others are viewing.”

    Public Use of the Internet Policy – Rules Governing Use

    …and yet…

    “Because computers are located in public areas of the library, what is displayed on the monitor is not confidential.”

    Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources

    I know that confidentiality is not perfectly synonymous with privacy. It still sounds like what is on the monitor is not subject to the confidentiality and privacy protection, right?



    so, does the library no longer have those computer monitor privacy screens? they darken the screen from viewing if you are viewing them from any angle except straight on like the computer user themselves. I’ve found those to be effective, but maybe they all got stolen ?

    I’d be shocked to see porn when randomly looking around. I think last time I walked behind the computer section at the central library, I averted my eyes so I wouldn’t happen to see something like that.



    If the SPL network security, firewall, etc. “allows”* this type of content to be displayed…they are not only inviting patron concerns to be voice but many viruses (of the technology kind) will also cause serious damage to the local PC – and potentially to those who use the library’s PC for more…um… P.C. needs.

    By “allows”, I refer to lack of warning filters or outright blocking of adult content where users of any tech savvyness should not be able to get around.



    I can absolutly see this happening. I don’t know how I would have reacted but I would think something as simple as saying in a really loud voice “dude why are you watching pornography in a public library with kids around” would have been enough to get him off. I would have also taken his picture and told him I was going to post it on seattle blogs.



    Geeze, some of you guys are just plain mean. This woman just explained what happened and how she wants to make the public aware. I for one am glad I read this. I just never thought about someone watching porn at the library. Now that I know this, I would keep the children I’m with away from the computer area. I think the library should be somewhat responsible to have the monitors out of view from everyone else so that someone walking by doesn’t have to be subjected to things like this.

    I don’t have a problem with the guy watching the porn, it’s great that the library is concerned about people’s freedoms, etc… but I can completely see why she would be upset.

    This forum is for people to rant and rave and discuss topics important to them… Some of the posters have been downright mean and rude about this. Her discussing this issue is no different than any other issue on this forum. If people don’t stop being so hypocritical and rude only those that like to cut people down to their knees will continue to visit this blog.



    Bostonman said: “I don’t know how I would have reacted but I would think something as simple as saying in a really loud voice “dude why are you watching pornography in a public library with kids around” would have been enough to get him off.”

    Um, that might just have been EXACTLY enough to get him off, if you know what I mean. Hard for me to imagine that someone watching porn on a public computer screen like that wasn’t doing it for the thrill of potentially making someone else uncomfortable. And yes, yelling at him and attracting the attention of kids (and others) present might have been an extremely rewarding experience for someone seeking that type of highly questionable reward.



    At first I was shocked at this story but then I decided to re-think it. I am very tired of the prudery we all grew up with. A guy watching porn in a library IS inappropriate but better that than watching ANY episode of CSI. How do you explain THAT to your kids? Oh honey, when you put a body into a barrel with lye you get saponification.

    *****365Stairs: It is possible to let the porn through and block the viruses. A good firewall will do that for you.*****



    Besides, correct me if I’m wrong dhg, but you wouldn’t use a firewall to block content, just malware, broadly speaking.

    Some libraries do use filtering software. As I mentioned previously, it’s a requirement for getting certain kinds of funding. But a lot of libraries don’t like it because the criteria the software uses or even its block list aren’t knowable. I think the rule now is that it has to be possible for the library to unblock a site or disable the software as needed. (We don’t use filtering software where I work, so I’m less familiar with the particulars. Our policy is similar to what’s on SPL’s website, which it sounds like wasn’t followed in this specific case.)



    “where users of any tech savvyness should not be able to get around”


    No such critter. It was tried in the early 90’s (I have a copy of the source code since I knew the developers) The internet grew too big too fast for non heuristic (ie flat file or DB black/grey/white list of sites) filters to work even with thousands of volunteer censors. The ability to bypass standard firewalls (which don’t filter content anyway though they may filter by file or mime type or deeper network layer packet inspection)is trivial from the inside of a network and the attempt to block porn with heuristic filters quickly makes the network damn near unusable for legitimate purposes.

    I have had the job of locking down a network of public and school system computers and I would never use such a system voluntarily.

    I support the libraries policies not to be the arm of those who want to undermine the first amendment. I am pretty sure I have seen filters in use at small branches where the kids section is adjacent to the computers.

    Polarizing Privacy filters (patented seemingly until the end of time)by 3M are available for about 60.00 per screen. If you want to raise money to buy these for your local library then go for it.

    I can probably make these cheaper:

    As I get older and lose more teeth, I have a tiny bit more sympathy for those who want to ban steak because babies can’t eat it.

    But not enough to feel the SPL should change their policies.



    I may change my mind about content filtering when I can protect my family from the hatemongers of the American Family Association, the Catholic church and Fox news.



    I completely support Julie, in part because I had almost EXACTLY the same experience at the Southwest Branch here in West Seattle. The computers there back up to the young adult section, and the screens are completely visible to anyone passing by. I stopped by to pick up a Harry Potter CD one day, and as I turned around was confronted with a spread-eagled woman on the computer screen. The guy had leered at me as I initially walked by facing him, and then leaned over to make the screen more visible as I passed from behind.

    When I complained – first to the branch manager, then the regional manager – my concerns were dismissed in the same way Julie describes. I will say that the branch manager was at least sympathetic, even confiding that several porn patrons had been escorted out by police for their obvious attempts to flaunt their activity, and encouraging me to complain up the chain (which I did). The ‘official’ response was that the screens are very difficult for anyone else to see unless you’re somehow deliberately invading the privacy of the porn viewer. In other words, it was my problem for allegedly being some kind of busybody. This is absolute BULL. The screens are large, elevated, and completely visible to anyone passing by. Nor should I have to navigate the library while staring at my shoes for fear of witnessing something straight out of a 1st Avenue sex shop. The placement of these computers next to the young adult section is also mind-boggling; this is an ideal setup for voyeurs and sexual predators.

    Just to clarify, I am not pro-censorship. However, this content/activity should not be visible to other patrons, whether child or adult. If I go into a video store (where they still exist) porn is not displayed alongside other DVD’s – it is segregated in a restricted, over 18 area. I really don’t get why the library is exempt from isolating this material.

    I’m also shocked at the responses from several usually intelligent beings who post regularly on the WSB, especially a librarian. I cannot believe that anyone who works in the library system would not be aware of this problem and the MANY complaints (verified by other librarians) that have arisen as a result of this unfettered access to pornography. I have written several raves about libraries and librarians on this blog, but the stance of Seattle Public Libraries on this issue is literally obscene.




    It is also on From that article, I think this is interesting and valid:

    “A public library has traditionally and historically enjoyed broad discretion to select materials to add to its collection of printed materials for its patrons’ use,” the court wrote.

    “We conclude that the same discretion must be afforded a public library to choose what materials from millions of Internet sites it will add to its collection and make available to its patrons.”

    “A public library has never been required to include all constitutionally protected speech in its collection and has traditionally had the authority, for example, to legitimately decline to include adult-oriented material such as pornography in its collection. This same discretion continues to exist with respect to Internet materials.”

    Seems like our Public Library should reevaluate what it chooses to allow on its computers.



    anonyme, I honestly can’t speak for what SPL does or doesn’t do–I don’t work for them. I can say that the rationale for not filtering content strikes me as valid, based on what Ken said and on the court decisions I’ve read on the subject, a couple of which I cited above. I’m all too aware that the problem exists, though it’s not something that has come up frequently where I work (the one instance I’m aware of, the offender was ejected–but as a private institution, we can do that).

    What do you suggest that public libraries do? I don’t ask that to be snarky–I’m genuinely curious. Should staff look over people’s shoulders to police what they’re looking at? Should filtering software be used, in the full knowledge that it blocks access to sites that no one would call pornographic? Do you agree with the recent Washington State Supreme Court decision that declared that filtering Internet content is a form of collection development, and not censorship at all? Is censorship ever justified?

    You kinda see where these questions go.



    The person was watching porn. I don’t really understand WHY in a public place but he did, there are much worse things people can do in public. If the kids see it and ask questions then TALK to them. Can’t protect kids from everything and might lead to a wonderful conversation. It is good that Julie bought this to the attention to all so that those concern are aware but really I don’t really see the big deal. Why does the library have to police what people are viewing?



    Why not share your thoughts with the Seattle Public Library? A library bond is coming up for a vote, and opinions are wanted.



    Thank you, critter. Yes please, before we get all high-horsey and indignant, let’s ban the ultra violence first.



    datamuse, I don’t think you’re being snarky at all, and my solution is really very simple. I’ve already stated that I don’t believe in censorship, but I don’t think that hard-core pornography needs to be available on every single computer at the library, completely visible to all. The computers on which that content would be made available could be screened off so that the monitors would not be visible to everyone using the library. As I said in my post above, I don’t see why the library – like any other business that sells or distributes this type of material – cannot segregate it, nor do I understand why they are not required to do so.

    And no, I don’t expect librarians to be looking over people’s shoulders (actually, that question was a bit snarky). However, if libraries choose to allow free porn, they must also be both aware of (and responsible for) the kinds of problems – some of them potentially very serious – that this policy will attract.



    Right-on, anon.



    Channel 7 news just teased the story, it will follow the commercial break.



    If the OP hadn’t made a scene, the kid would have never seen it.

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