Incident at the Seattle Public Library

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    Porn has been deemed protected speech but should viewing on public computers in a public setting be considered a violation of this protection?

    The ACLU thinks so:



    Please note that in the article linked by Under Achiever, the ACLU is not suing just because some library has banned porn. They’re suing because the library ban is OVERLY BROAD and blocks all kinds of things in addition to porn.

    The search censorship by the North Central Regional Library also means some websites — such as Google Images and YouTube — are blocked too. The [Library Board] decided the filter serves its mission to promote reading and lifelong learning.

    Look, I do care about library patrons being exposed to unwanted porn. I’m against that. But am I willing to give up my right to use YouTube and Google at the library, just so to avoid the POSSIBILITY that someone’s kid MIGHT see pornography?

    –No, I’m NOT willing to give up that right.

    So, to the parents who are concerned about this, I would say: If porn at the library turns out to be a real problem, I’m willing to work with you to resolve it. But I’m not getting on the censorship bandwagon.

    Nuh-uh. No way.



    JoB, I think the conversation would have been different because child porn is expressly NOT protected speech in any way, shape, or form.

    DBP, the thing I find sorta strange about that is that Google has its own SafeSearch feature that actually works pretty well. Though the user can disable it on his/her own.



    I looked at the picture of the SW library that DBP posted. Most of the computers are contained in an area by themselves where one would actually have to walk right behind them to see what they’re looking at…except for that back row. Stacks of books back there. If that’s the youth area, then, just move the computers or put up a portable wall between the two areas. Deed done, no need for censorship. Not exactly private, either, but not open to prying eyes. Why is this so difficult?



    Thank you JanS!!!!! Its like duh!


    me on 28th Ave SW

    I am pretty sure that picture from DBP is from Southwest Library, but a different library with a similar layout (I think it is even labeled as such). The complaints I have read referring to Southwest (as well as my own earlier specific complaint) all seem to refer to the computers that are 1. backed up to the teen book area 2. in view going to and from the public restroom or 3. coming to and from the “reserve hold” area. That pretty much covers the whole large bank of computers in the southwest corner of the Southwest Public library LOL.



    OK, first, I owe apologies to julie.howe and anonyme, and any other people I’ve offended during my busy day.

    I just got back from SW Libary, and in terms of screen visibility, these folks are correct: You really CAN see what’s on the computers in the teen area. You can see it as clear as day.

    The “privacy screens” work quite well at distances of 3 to 5 feet, but if you’re standing farther away than that, and your looking at the computer from any number of different angles, the privacy screens are useless. The privacy screens do keep passersby from “shoulder surfing,” but that’s about it.

    Granted, if someone was sitting at a computer watching porn, his body would at least partially block the view. But if he leaned over, or left the computer for a bit, you could see everything.

    me on 28th is correct in pointing out that there are a LOT of computers in the teen area, so it’s not as easy as moving them to some “empty” location. If you want to absolutely prevent kids from seeing porn at the SW Libray you’d have to do one of the following:

    1) Rearrange the shelves on the east side of building and put the teen computers in there

    2) Put filtering software on the computers in the teen area

    3) Take the teen area computers offline

    4) Do nothing.


    The next question, as far as I’m concerned, is to determine just how big of a problem this is. How often does porn leakage really occur?

    I’ve got a call in to the librarian in charge of West Seattle libraries. I’ll get back to you with her comments.


    Ms. Sparkles

    Ms. Howe,

    A friend of mine read the Seattle Times article about this earlier in the week and was so incensed by the Librarian’s blasé attitude toward your complaint that he wrote to both the head Librarian and the Library Board requesting they change the policy; moved by his passion I did as well and encourage everyone who has posted comments here expressing outrage at this behavior to do so as well.

    The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that libraries do have the right to restrict content, and that paired with the fact that the library’s goal is to promote reading and provide access to educational information should warrant the minimum response of telling Mr. Happy to move along to a more discrete viewing area. I personaly advocate content filtering because, unless there is some form of “educational porn” that I’m ignorant about, viewing internet pornography doesn’t fit either of the Library’s expressed missions.


    Participant leakage? Sorry…didn’t mean to get flippant here..just struck me as a funny choice of words…



    you can’t skateboard at ALki but you can broadcast hardcore kiddy porn with unsuspecting children right next to you. Now that’s family values. Why doesn’t the library subscribe to XXX dvds? Could it be that they exercise judgment, discriminating taste, limits, boundaries, decide appropriateness, etc.

    In the workplace it is settled law that images that degrade, demean and otherwise harass women

    constitute a hostile work environment. When the porno guy is at it and the only available computer is right next to him, I can leave. But the libray staff cannot. Surely there are some staff for whom these demeaning and/or sadistic images are offensive and hence constitute a hostile work environment.

    The library admin. often falls victim to the slippery slope fallacy, that is, that if it inhibits one thing it must inhibit everything; which of course is nonsense since they make judgement calls and set limits about library content constantly (like not subscribing to Penthouse). The argument that one need not see the degrading images if one so chooses is totally specious. There are many angles from around the library where one accidently find one’s eyeballs taking in other computer screens. Yuck.



    I personaly advocate content filtering because, unless there is some form of “educational porn” that I’m ignorant about, viewing internet pornography doesn’t fit either of the Library’s expressed missions.

    Hmmmm. No such thing as educational porn, eh? That argument sounds pretty good, but substitute the word “obscenity” for “pornography” and you begin to see the dilemma posed by censorship. (Pornography is not the same thing as obscenity, but for the purpose of this argument, it might as well be.)

    When you censor a depiction of sex, you are declaring that that depiction has no artistic or educational value whatever and that it’s merely prurient. But what’s prurient to you? Anything that you personally find unenlightening?

    Let’s look at a case example:

    D.H. Lawrence’s classic romance, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, wasn’t published in the U.S. until 31 years after it was written, because American publishers were worried about falling afoul of the obscenity laws. When it eventually WAS published here, in 1959, the publisher (Penguin Books) was immediately taken to court. Fortunately, Penguin was acquitted and Americans were finally allowed to “see” what they’d been missing.

    There are many explicit depictions of sex in Lady Chatterly, yet it is now considered one of masterpieces of English literature.



    the problem with filtering is…let’s say I want to study anatomy…or how to do a manual exam for breast cancer lumps. That would be a closeup of a breast. That would probably be filtered. A breast is not pornographic in some instances, and is in others. The filters don’t know the difference. Nor would they know the difference if I was studying anatomy, and wanted to see reproductive organs…it’s all the same to the filters. The library may have already tried this, and it didn’t work, for all we know. Filtering may not be as simple as many think.


    me on 28th Ave SW

    DBP, I appreciate the update after your visit to Southwest branch.



    most seem to want a compromise. No we don’t want to take away your precious porn — just to provide some buffer for the kids.(-not a huge threat to the 1st amendment). Perhaps a partitioned cubicle with a bank of computers labelled “reserved for porn”. and placement of the cubicle? may we suggest “a dark closet in the basement.” (Ben Stocking, online Letter to the Editor, Seattle Times)



    lol..yeah…you wanna watch porn at the library? we got your number :D



    LOL.. i can see the headlines now..

    “publicly funded peep shows”



    Well, I got a call from Jane Appling, the Regional Manager for SPL’s West Seattle libraries* yesterday.

    At first there was just a lot of heavy breathing on the line, but that was because I had to run upstairs to get the phone. After I caught my breath, Ms. Appling explained that she is aware of patrons sometimes getting a glimpse (or more) of porn. She said she was not happy about that. She definitely did not sound nonchalant about it.

    ► Complaints? Yes, they get complaints. How many? Well, Ms. Appling said she’s been working for SPL for over 10 years, and managing the West Seattle region for 2.5. In that 2.5 years, she’s received (and responded to) three written complaints about porn being visible on Library computers.

    ► Not all complaints are written. Most are oral. Although SPL doesn’t track oral complaints, Ms. Appling estimated that library staff receive about six oral complaints per year at each library in WS. (Or maybe the six complaints is for the whole WS system. Can’t remember.) Most WS complaints happen at SW Library, probably because it’s the biggest, busiest library in West Seattle.

    ► A porn complaint is typically not a complaint about porn being visible to other patrons. It is more likely to be along the lines of, “Hey, Librarian! Did you know there’s a guy over in the corner looking at Internet porn? Can he do that?”

    ► Most complaints are one-time deals that are not pursued by the patron. (Ms. A: “After we explain the policy, that’s usually the end of it.”)


    ► SW Library: At SW, there are two computers in the teen area that are most visible to the public. Ms. Appling has given consideration to moving those computers to a more private location or taking them off-line (i.e., making them catalog-only).

    —Moving even two computers is a difficult proposition, she told me, because furniture has to be moved around, wiring has to be changed, etc. (I got the sense that if it were easy, she would have done it by now.)

    —Taking two computers off-line means losing 120 user-hours per week of Internet access. (“Is that a lot?” I asked. “Yes, that’s a lot,” she said. As you may know, demand for Internet access at SW is very high.)


    ► Privacy Screens: There are other options for privacy screens, and they have been considered at length. None of them is without its problems. For example, there’s one screen that lies flat on the table and can’t be seen by anyone but the user, but that screen presents ADA-access issues, since it’s bulky, and doesn’t allow a wheelchair user to scoot in under the table.



    DBP’s Summary

    The issue of Internet porn leakage has been on the Library’s radar screen, so to speak, for a long time, and many people there have given much thought to the problem. But the cost-benefit analysis is such that SPL has decided to leave things pretty much the way they are. In spite of the recent ruckus.



    *Includes Delridge / High Point / South Park / Southwest / W. Seattle.



    Maybe this would be a good place for me to talk about porn. I mean, in a general sort of way. And just from a guy’s point of view, of course.

    (A couple of other guys out there have touched on this, and I commend them for having the guts. I also commend the women for being willing to consider these other viewpoints, potentially offensive as they are.)

    But let’s just see how long I can stay under the radar with this . . . And I won’t complain or act surprised if someone comes in, deus ex machina-style, and shuts it down.

    After all, kids could be watching.



    So? Where’s the discussion? ;-)



    I’m working up to it, Jan, but here’s a teaser . . .


    I grew up on the mean streets of suburbia. By the time I was 10, I had already descended into a squalid life of porn addiction, sneaking peeks at girls in the shower, stashing Penthouse mags under my shirt at the local A & P, poring over them in the woods behind the school.

    So this is what illicit pleasure feels like, I thought. You know . . . a boy could get used to this. Yessir. A boy could get used to it.

    Fast forward to Me at Age 14, trying to have a grown-up discussion about porn with my psychiatrist dad.

    “What’s wrong with people looking at magazines like Penthouse?” I wondered aloud. “It’s a healthy outlet for sexual urges.”

    “No it’s not! It’s NOT a healthy outlet!” he replied sternly.

    So then I’m was thinking, OK. And your reason for saying that is . . . ?


    I mean, I honestly wanted to know why my dad thought porn was unhealthy. But I never got an answer from him, about this or anything else that was important to me then.

    And I guess I never will. But that’s a story for another day.

    TBC . . .



    well, the title of this thread would make a good title for your story…or a murder mystery…:D




    if guys want to do what guys do and watch porn it’s fine with me…

    as long as they don’t make me watch them watching porn…

    i’m not entirely sure because believe it or not some things are outside my personal experience…

    but i have been told that what used to be called call girls charged big bucks for that.

    personally, i think they really earned their money.



    >>if guys want to do what guys do and watch porn it’s fine with me… as long as they don’t make me watch them watching porn…

    OK, I totally get that, Jo. But at the same time I would say that, of the guys who watch porn at the Libe, the number who want you to see them watching is probably pretty small.

    These guys are no better or worse than any other guy who likes porn. Most of ’em are only watching there at the Libe ‘cuz they’re broke, and because they have no shame. Or because they’re teenagers.

    But I repeat myself . . .



    DBP. Where’s your evidence that the guys who want others to observe them watching porn at the library is a “small” number? Do taxpayers have an obligation to provide porn for the poor? And aren’t teenagers required to use the computers with filters?

    I haven’t seen actual statistics regarding porn viewers at the library, but common sense would dictate that doing so in a public place only adds to the titillation. As women and children are the obvious targets, I’m not completely surprised at your casual attitude. Hey, you’re just a guy after all…



    It is scary to think that a person who wants to watch porn in a public setting has some real personal issues. I myself am a single straight male who loves to look at good looking women. I’m not going to lie.I have my own laptop though. It is real risky viewng porn in public. I have seen computer users at the Central Library in downtown view porn. There’s a back row of computers at the Central Library, were unless you go out of your way, you’ll see all of them viewing porn. There is a mad rush as soon as doors open for those to grab a back row computer to view. It has been going on that way for years there. Security knows it, but can’t do anything about it because it is a right.

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