Internet Privacy: Pornography in the Library

Answer truthfully now, if you were walking through a public

library with your kids, what emotion would you feel if someone

was surfing hardcore porn pornographic sites where everyone in the

place could look over his shoulder and see it? Would you be

embarrassed? Outraged? Upset? Shamed?

Would you want the government to step in?

This is a very thorny and interesting issue. I don’t see a clear

cut, obvious solution that magically appearing out of nowhere.

It’s not a new issue by any means (pornography existed long

before the internet), but the placing of computer systems hooked

up to the web has increased the magnitude of the problem many


Personally, I don’t like my taxes going towards methods for

children to look at porn in libraries. Pornography is harmful

to people in general, but the effect on children can have

catastrophic consequences. Intelligent parents exercise great

control over what their children view until they become able to

discern right from wrong and fantasy from reality.

On the other hand, we do have freedom of speech and expression

and that is very important. Adults must have the right to choose

what materials they want to view and read. How can anyone else

make the decision what is correct for me to see, read or be

exposed to?

I do not want the government telling people what is not and what

is acceptable for viewing. This is not the proper role for our

elected officials, and it is certainly not what a librarian

should be doing. Other people may have other beliefs and

viewpoints and they should be allowed to make their own choices.

Then again, if I am walking through a library, I really do not

appreciate walking by someone who is viewing a hardcore sex site,

and I definitely would not want my own children viewing it. This

violates my own ethical standard.

Pornography is something that people should be viewing in the

privacy of their own homes, not in public places. In our society

sex is something that is practiced in private (or at least not

out in the streets, well, at least not by the majority of

people), and, in my view, an exception should not be made for


If that were the entire issue we could probably all come to an

agreement, but unfortunately there is more to it than that. One

question is where do you draw the line over what’s viewable and

what’s not? Okay, perhaps we could agree not to allow hardcore

sex sites to be viewed, but what about softcore? What about a

hate site or a site about gay lifestyles or an alternative

religion? Perhaps children should not be exposed to those things

as well.

The second issue is one of filtering technology. The sad fact

is parental filters and controls don’t work very well. It’s

difficult, if not impossible, for a machine to determine if an

image is pornographic or not (and it certainly cannot

differentiate between filth and art). In fact, the machine even

has trouble with text. For example, this article mentions

pornography and sex several times, and I’ll bet that many email

filters would simply block it from being received.

So what’s the tradeoff?

Actually, to tell you the truth, I am not exactly sure why

libraries believe it is necessary to give people access to the

internet at all. Yes, a library should be computerized, but there

are plenty of publications available on compact disk and other

media. Perhaps connecting a library to the internet was a mistake

to begin with.

So one possible alternative is to disconnect libraries from the

web entirely. After all, it’s getting to the point where most

people are connected in one way or another anyway. Thus, instead

of allowing internet access, a library could build a useful and

complete collection of material available on CD, DVD and so forth

and make that available to the public.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending upon your

viewpoint) internet access for libraries is here to stay. This

is one of the methods that has been chosen to promote going to

the library, to change it from a dusty book tomb to something

which is actually useful to people.

Well, another alternative is instead of trying to filter out the

bad stuff, why not only accept a limited subset of sites? There

could be a library database of reviewed and accepted sites, and

those sites would be the only ones allowed to be viewed or

accessed on the library systems. This is, after all, the way new

books get added to the shelves – someone reads it, decides it

needs to be added to the collection and it is purchased.

Using this method, you could create allow for constitutional

freedoms, much as libraries do with their hardcopy materials,

without allowing the grossly unacceptable material into the


Of course, the question must be asked: who gets to choose what

is acceptable or not?

Personally, I would not envy the people on that committee.

My feeling is libraries are not intended to be pornographic

movie theatres or adult bookstore arcades. PCs are everywhere

and if some teenager or adult wants the material he or she can

find it from their home or whatever.

So I don’t see the need to make this material available on

publicly funded library systems. We don’t put Hustler and other

materials in public libraries, do we? At least not out in the


However, I also believe that other adults need to be allowed to

make their own decisions as to what’s acceptable and what’s not.

That is a fundamental right for all adults.

So like I said earlier, this is a thorny issue which will not go

away soon. In fact, it will probably become more heated as time

goes on and more and more materials of all kinds appear on the

internet. I don’t envy those who do have to make the hard

decisions, as they will not be liked by anyone.

1 September 2018


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