A few months ago, I received this letter from my friend, Pam. It concerned a shock she received at a
local public library--a new facility in Montgomery County that is a hit with all the moms of young children in our area. I asked permission to share it with my blog readers because I was curious as to what other people had experienced.
As most of you know, I am not one to go all hysterical, but I am so dumbfounded by what happed to me today, that I thought I should share it with you.
I was at the Rockville Library (without my son, gratefully), when I looked over and saw a young man watching pornography on one of the library's computers. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say it was very explicit and nobody with any sense of sanity would say what I was viewing was open to interpretation. When I complained to the librarian I was told that by law--because of his right to freedom of speech and right to information--this man had the right to watch porn on the library's computers, and that all they could do was go give the man a privacy screen. A privacy screen will block the view from the sides but still allow someone standing directly behind him to see what was on the screen. I should add that there was a group of younger teenagers sitting within sight of this computer as well.
I had a lengthy conversation with the head librarian. I asked for the library's policy in writing, and she gave me a copy of a policy paper that the American Library Association put out about internet access and the use of filters on library computers. (The ALA is against them.) While sympathetic in tone, she stated that there was nothing she could do. As I was leaving the library, a second librarian told me that at another library in Montgomery County, the library was forced to reprimand a security guard who forced a patron to stop viewing porn on the library's computer. The guard thought he was doing the right thing (imagine that!)--that patrons were not allowed to view porn at the library--but it turns out he was wrong. When the patron complained, the guard was reprimanded.
Yes, we live in a world that has some how made what is right wrong, and what is wrong right. Maybe you all knew this already, but I pass this along because I don't want your kids to see anything that that they shouldn't. I am mulling over whether there is any additional course of action I might be able to take, as this seems so insane that parents cannot do anything about this. If anyone has any suggestions for me, I would be grateful to receive them.
Pam says she appreciates this library and certainly isn't trying cause any trouble personally for the librarians there. But she is deeply concerned about this policy. Afterward, she learned through some rudimentary research that the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that public libraries do not necessarily infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech if they put filters on their computers, as long as they
are willing to turn the filters off if an adult patron asks. The protection of children was seen as a "compelling interest," she says.
About a month after this experience, she wrote a lengthy letter to the director of Montgomery County Libraries. A few weeks later, she received a response from a library staffer, addressing specifically the issues in her letter. The library staffer indicated that they are "evaluating" their current policy and talking to other jurisdictions to see how well (or not so well) filters work in other community libraries. She didn't really indicate that the county would be changing its policy, however. "I am hoping to convince other people to write to the director of the library, as well," Pam says. "The response that I received left me with the impression that they are open to input, but I could be wrong on this."
I have to confess I have little reason to be in libraries these days, thanks to the 'Net, so I was unaware of this issue. However, it appears to be a growing problem. One librarian was recently fired from her job for reporting a man watching child pornography. A California man was arrested for viewing child pornography and police found candy, ropes, and duct tape in his car. And an investigative report by KGO-TV in San Francisco found "multiple incidents of people performing lewd sexual acts in public view at a San Jose library while viewing porn." Fortunately, I also discovered that there is an organization called Family Friendly Libraries that has taken on this issue and provides guidelines for communities that want to take action.
Is this an issue in your community, too? I've opened the comment function on this post for a few days to hear from you all on this topic. I would especially appreciate hearing from the librarians. (Comments will be moderated and, due to my schedule, will only be posted for a few days.)