Incident at the Seattle Public Library

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  • #746826

    me on 28th Ave SW
    Participant

    My teenage daughter has seen men watching porn at the Southwest branch when she goes to pick up her library holds. This is not new news, it has been happening for years. Not a fan of censorship, but it does bother me that there has not been any changes made for privacy. I do not think it is prudish for people to prefer to not see pornography in a public library for whatever reason. I think there should be either privacy screens or curtained screens (just covering from mid-back up thankyouverymuch, no need to encourage worse behavior). There has got to be a better way to deal with it.

    #746827

    critter
    Member

    1. don’t look

    2. Yell ‘LORDYYYY! IS THAT PORN?!?!?!’

    3. stand next to the person; drool and laugh like Beavis and Butthead

    #746828

    Sonoma
    Participant

    Critter: Heh-heh-heh. You said “porn.”

    Seriously (or not), why would a guy look at porn if he can’t get some…ummmm…release (something best done at home)? Or am I being naive?

    #746829

    add
    Participant

    I don’t understand why the libraries don’t have those privacy screens for the computer monitor (as some others have mentioned above). Even at $60 each (which I’m sure an institution like the SPL can find at a better rate), that seems like the simplest way to deal with this issue, in addition to providing privacy for users who are accessing any kind of info that they don’t want others to be able to see (such as bank account info, etc.).

    I find it abhorrent that pornography should be allowed to be openly viewed in a public space such as the library – how is that OK but you have to be a certain age and pay to get into an X-rated movie or strip joint? Why should others be subjected to those images just because someone else is allowed to access them? That doesn’t seem fair or equitable to me. It isn’t a “prude” issue, and I resent the comments above that dismiss concerns about this as such.

    Seems like there are a lot of conflicting rules & policies floating around out there that should be addressed by SPL.

    #746830

    goodgraces
    Participant

    I really think that anonyme and the last several posters have distilled the issue perfectly:

    “. . . this content/activity should not be visible to other patrons, whether child or adult” (anonyme).

    Don’t censor (allow folks to watch porn on the SPL computers), but ensure that the computers and/or computer monitors are visually separate from other areas in the library.

    It’s so funny (to me, at least) that WA state liquor laws stipulate that restaurants have to physically separate their eating and ‘drinking’ (bar) areas. Minors can’t have a meal in the ‘bar’ section even if it is literally inches away from the ‘restaurant’ section and separated only by a half wall.

    People have a constitutional right to view whatever content they want on the library computers. But I also (should) be protected from *having* to encounter that, if I so choose to abstain. Computer areas should be separate from other areas of the library to address these often-conflicting basic rights.

    (I know that everyone and every gov’t entity is struggling with budget cuts right now. But that is no excuse for not addressing this issue. Spend a few hundred bucks at each branch for standing screens or something to provide a separation of space. You don’t have to reorg whole branches or create new computer rooms!)

    #746831

    datamuse
    Participant

    At least one article I read on the Lake City incident said that the computers DID have privacy screens. They aren’t perfect, though. (I don’t know personally because I haven’t used an SPL computer in years.)

    As I understand it, add, what it comes down to basically is that Internet filtering software is incapable of determining whether or not something is actually porn. We might know it when we see it, but we’re smarter than software. (Which sort of speaks to your point, anonyme. How do you decide what is “that kind” of content, and how do you restrict its access to only certain computers? My point here is that it’s not as easy as putting Playboy behind a brown cardboard divider in the magazine store.)

    To me, it’s not so much the equivalent of being let into a strip joint as happening to walk by when the door is open. Which happened to me when I was 12. I didn’t see the appeal, but hey, I was 12. (Bourbon Street is an exciting place, as it turns out.)

    So what exactly is fair or equitable, and who gets to decide it?

    That’s a reasonable question, but based on all the history and legal precedent I’ve read, nobody yet has quite figured out the answer.

    #746832

    AHexpat
    Participant

    Let me try… “First off, let me just say that I’m completely against censorship of any kind. [Insert statement supporting censorship of something that makes me uncomfortable here].”

    #746833

    anonyme
    Participant

    I think that part of the issue here is how we define censorship, both as individuals and as a society. As a society, we employ what some would define as censorship in many ways. We don’t allow graphic depictions of sex acts on billboards, we don’t allow sex acts in public, we have noise ordinances and numerous other laws that define public and/or social behavior. I think most of us would agree that these restrictions are reasonable and necessary.

    The true issue is one of private and public behavior. Does anyone think it would be OK for some guy to stand outside the library window during story time and masturbate? Why then is it OK if it takes place on a visible computer screen a few feet away? Both are public spaces. A complete ban on the viewing of pornography on library computers would indeed constitute censorship; a screen or barrier – absolutely not.

    The motives of someone who is driven to view pornography in a public venue consistently used by children must also be called into question. In my situation, the porn viewer made every effort to make sure that I saw what was on his screen; this is no different than other acts of indecent exposure. The intention is to shock and demean. If I had loudly criticized this act as another post suggested, I’m the one who would have been thrown out of the library.

    #746834

    add
    Participant

    Just to be clear, I was NOT suggesting filtering software or censorship (although I do agree with goodgraces, me on 28th, and anonyme). I was suggesting that public library computers be fitted with those screens that don’t allow you to see what’s on the monitor unless you are sitting directly in front of it. I sit next to people with those on airplanes all the time. I don’t understand why that’s so hard for public libraries.

    #746835

    Jiggers
    Member

    It is a constitutional right to view what you want. Change the constitution if you don’t like those freedoms. The problem is were do you draw the line? Another problem is that people are nosy and like to look at what you are doing on your computer. If people weren’t so nosy in this regards, then you wouldn’t have a problem.

    #746836

    skeeter
    Participant

    Aren’t there public decency laws? A guy can’t take off his pants and walk around the library. I’m pretty sure it’s against the law. So I don’t see why he could look at pictures of unclothed people in a public place if others can see the monitor.

    #746837

    I have no problem with “adult material” but I agree children should not be around where it could be seen since they are under 18. It is also reasonable for someone to take their child to the library and expect to not encounter nudity.

    .

    Libraries in the greater Seattle area have been notorious for the last 10 years or so for lewd & lacivious conduct, pedophiles leering and acting out around children at the downtown library for example. Now pervs are looking at this “material” and leering at women to get an extra jolly. SOME people viewing this material in public can likely do it in private but chose the public forum because of a fetish they have.

    .

    It is a shame what libraries have become. The pro and con: it’s a free place for people to congregate.

    .

    Good points made about how kids can’t eat in a bar and public decency.

    .

    Something should be done about this issue so I applaud the OP. Privacy screens are good but even with privacy screens, material legal for people 18 and over can be seen by those who are not of legal age. Since filtered content exists in the libraries, maybe have the filtered computers facing the childrens area?

    .

    Thanks for getting this discussion going Julie Howe.

    #746838

    datamuse
    Participant

    skeeter: Believe me, that question’s been raised when issues like this have gone to court in the past. (And they have–all the way to the Supreme Court, as I mentioned previously.) The thing is, strange as it no doubt seems to many, it turns out that the right of adults to view pornography is Constitutionally protected. Now you may ask, what about obscenity laws, and you’re right to do so. But it turns out that legally (caveat: IANAL), pornography and obscenity are not the same thing, and neither is viewing an image as opposed to a live specimen, so to speak.

    I think we’re all pretty much on the same page that that’s not in question–what I wanted to address was the obscenity and/or public decency aspect.

    Now the thing is, from at least some accounts I’ve read, the library at Lake City DOES have those privacy screens. (I’ve never been to that branch; if anyone knows for sure, please say so.) But they don’t work perfectly, and in particular, if you’re standing right behind somebody who’s using one, you can still see what’s on the screen.

    I agree with you about the motives of the individual you encountered, anonyme. It’s a bit like flashers–they do it because they want to offend you. The problem of course is that motivation isn’t always as easy to detect. *I* think it’s beyond tacky to look at porn in public and wouldn’t do it myself, but for some folks that’s not the case.

    Personally I think the best solution is the one we’ve instituted at my own library: if what someone is looking at is disturbing others, we move that person to a more private location. Lest one think that nobody would have a valid research reason to look at some of this stuff, let me just say that it’s amazing what gets published as research.

    #746839

    skeeter
    Participant

    Thanks for the info Datamuse.

    #746840

    Jiggers
    Member

    The world is a very scary place when you leave your little happy place.

    #746841

    DBP
    Member

     

    Now the thing is, from at least some accounts I’ve read, the library at Lake City DOES have those privacy screens. (I’ve never been to that branch; if anyone knows for sure, please say so.) But they don’t work perfectly, and in particular, if you’re standing right behind somebody who’s using one, you can still see what’s on the screen.

                  —data moos

    Yeah. Same thing for our own SW library. If you’re standing right behind someone at a computer, you can see what they’re seeing. But to stand behind someone at SW, you’d really have to intrude yourself into that person’s space, because there’s not much room between the computer banks and the bookshelf. So it would be unlikely that anyone at SW would ever be forced to see porn for more than a second or two at most.

    I suspect that Lake City has taken similar steps when laying out their computer stations — they’re a very kid-friendly library — but the only way to know for sure is to visit.

    If anyone wants to send me pictures from Lake City, I’ll post ’em here.

    (Not pictures of porn, though.)

    #746842

    DBP
    Member

    Aerial view of a computer bank at the Capitol Hill Library:

    This is very similar to the configuration at SW Library and other libraries, in the sense that the computer screens are NOT easily viewable from the surrounding area.

    For the record, I repeat my statement that I do NOT believe julie.howe’s account in all its details. If she wants to come back here and debate this, then I’m willing to listen.

    Until then, my trusty pitchfork shall stay a-rusting in the garden shed.

    #746843

    me on 28th Ave SW
    Participant

    So do you not believe Eric Lacitis either? Here is the end of his article in yesterday’s Seattle Times

    “On Tuesday afternoon, at the Lake City branch of the library, Howe told her story and showed where it all happened.

    All the public computers were in use — people on Facebook, reading and writing email, playing online Bingo.

    And there was one quiet guy, watching the screen intently. It was showing porn.”

    Or do you think he was invading all the patrons personal space to sneak a peek? I can tell you that my daughter has seen porn at Southwest Library and was not creepin’ in some strange guys “personal bubble” to see it. So, maybe the privacy screen was off, maybe it was never there. Maybe he wanted her to see it walking past and took it off, we cannot know. I think there should be dividers between and curtain behind. I believe her.

    #746844

    anonyme
    Participant

    DBP, I’m completely bewildered by your stance on this. Did you read my accounts of what happened to me at the SW branch, or am I a liar as well as Julie? Are you suggesting that I was somehow deliberately intruding on this poor perv’s space, and therefore deserved whatever I got an eyeful of? Perhaps you had better revisit SW branch. There is no way to exit or enter the young adult section (which is also the rear route to the restrooms) without passing close by the bank of computers that face out toward the YA section. I resent the suggestions that these screens are only visible to snoopers, or that I should be expected to traverse the library with my eyes glued to the floor.

    Screens only provide a bit more privacy from adjacent users. They do nothing to shield the screen from people browsing shelves in the immediate vicinity of the computer, or those just passing through.

    KUOW did a piece on Julie’s story this morning. My experience – and Julie’s – are far from being rare occurrences. Apparently it IS technically illegal to display this stuff on a monitor visible to others, and SPL policies are in conflict with the law – but nobody wants to enforce it.

    #746845

    waterworld
    Participant

    If you heard Ross Reynolds talking about the “law” related to visual displays, I think you heard wrong — meaning Ross Reynolds and KUOW are wrong about what the law does and does not prohibit.

    The Seattle Municipal Code does not prohibit all visual displays of pornography. First, there’s the issue of what “displays” of content it attempts to prohibit. The ordinance defines a “public display” to include billboards, screens, newsstands, window displays and the like that are “easily visible from a public thoroughfare or from the property of others.” A library is not a public thoroughfare. The ordinance was designed to address displays visible from the street or visible from, say, your home. In 1973, when the law was drafted, the concern was displays of adult magazine covers and the like in the windows of bookstores and newsstands.

    Second, there’s the content of the display. The Seattle ordinance is aimed at material it defines as “erotic.” It includes, for example, images that “emphasize the depiction of adult human genitals.” Similar statutory definitions of pornography and erotica have routinely been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as violating the first amendment. The definition sweeps in too much protected speech (overbreadth) and it is not sufficiently clear about which speech is allowed and which is not (vagueness). The fact that Seattle’s definition of erotic material remains on the books does not mean it is valid law, for the same reasons that old statutes prohibiting things like unmarried sex are not good law. I am not claiming there’s been a ruling on the scope of this particular ordinance — just that many others like it have been struck down.

    There’s also the federal law issue. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) places requirements on public libraries that receive certain kinds of federal funding. (I don’t even know if the Seattle Public Library receives federal funding.) Under CIPA, libraries receiving federal funds for discounted internet access and services, or federal funds or grants to buy computers to be used to access the internet must certify to the FCC that they have deployed filters that will block visual depictions that are (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (for users under 17) “harmful to minors.” The law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a very divided opinion, without a clear majority on some core issues. (The case is U.S. vs. American Library Association.) Under the Court’s interpretation, forcing federally-funded libraries to have filters in place is constitutionally acceptable because “when a patron encounters a blocked site, he need only ask a librarian to unblock it or (at least in the case of adults) disable the filter.”

    In other words, it’s fine to use filters to protect minors from being exposed to obscenity, child pornography, and visual content that would harm them. But it may not be okay to block adults from accessing material that is constitutionally protected, even if it is pornographic, offensive, or harmful to minors. As datamuse noted already, there’s a big difference between pornography and obscenity — one is protected by the constitution, the other is not.

    Also, CIPA is measured about the consequences for libraries that violate the law. There is no private right of action under CIPA, meaning that a library patron who thinks the library has failed to adequately protect his or her child from offensive images cannot sue the library, force it to act, or bring cops to arrest the librarian. The library would be at risk of losing funding in the future, but that would only happen after a long series of violations. On the flip side there’s not a whole lot an grownup can do if a library insists on blocking his or her access to womenandguns.com.

    Seattle Public Library has staked out a strong position in favor of intellectual freedom. One of its guiding principles is to enable “all individuals in our community to exercise their right to access constitutionally protected information.” It can’t be easy to satisfy everyone, but for my tax money, I would rather the library err on the side of freedom of access.

    #746846

    Cait
    Participant

    I have to say I remember there being privacy screens at the West Seattle branch. People should not be able to view what others are seeing on those computers, be in pornography or things like their social security number if they’re doing their taxes. Personally, I remember being a kid and being told not to look at what other people were doing on the computer in the name of not being “nosy”. The problem with separating these computers is that it’s a privacy violation in itself – it announces “Hey these people are over here doing things they don’t want you to see and it’s probably WEIRD!”

    Answer number one is privacy shields, I think that’s obvious. It clearly benefits all parties. The other is discretion – don’t look at what other people are doing. Frankly it sounds like this situation clearly could have been avoided – the kid saw what was happening because the mom made a big deal about it, it’s all but said here.

    And also maybe find somewhere else to look at porn? If the library is the only place for you to watch it, maybe the universe is telling you that you don’t really need to look at it that bad. Also – your kids are going to know about that kind of stuff WAY before you want them to anyway in most cases. The odds of your child being shielded from this stuff until they are fully ready to understand it is slim to none. Is in unfortunate that it happened this way? Yes. But I’m sorry, it’s inevitable.

    #746847

    Cait
    Participant

    I would also say I felt the level of detail in the OP’s post was a bit unnecessary given then the theme is running across unintended, graphic stuff on the internet. And also, if your kid knows enough to know that what they’re watching is inappropriate, they clearly already know a little bit about what you’re trying to shield them from. Sounds like a sort of intuitive learning opportunity to me since they already seem to know what’s going on to a degree.

    #746848

    2 Much Whine
    Participant

    I say we put some computers in a separate room, have curtains behind them and for a quarter the computer comes on and shows porn for 3 minutes. Oh wait, we had those and they were called peep shows. Apparently we’ve gotten rid of the curtains and the privacy and now it’s public and free. Progress is a beautiful thing. Too bad we can do it with porn but not healthcare.

    #746849

    Jiggers
    Member

    Our city has made it so difficult for men to enjoy looking at a naked woman in a private business like a gentlemen’s club that the computer is the next best thing to the real thing. What do you think will happen if you take away those rights to those who’s only access to see naked women on a public computer system?

    #746850

    2 Much Whine
    Participant

    I’m guessing someone will start a “Occupy the Library and Watch Porn” movement.

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