1st-amendment

Library solves porn problem by moving computers

April 13, 2011 at 1:52 PM ET

If you want to keep your kid from looking at inappropriate stuff on the Internet, keep the computer in the middle of the home's high-traffic area — the living room. Barring filtering software, it's the obvious lo-fi solution. That doesn't work in libraries however, where adults who want to look at pornography in public often have no shame.

(If you haven't visited your local library in a while, you might be surprised to learn that adults viewing pornography on public library computers is not a rare occurrence.)

In an instance at the Chinatown Branch Library in Los Angeles, kids waiting to check out books were exposed to pornography being viewed by an adult patron at the library's computer banks, the Los Angeles Times reports. Parents, understandably, complained:

"In the months since the Dec. 28 incident, which sparked outcry in Chinatown, officials have been mulling over ways to protect patrons from the sometimes explicit content on other people's screens while also protecting free expression."

The solution?  Move the computers away from the high traffic area. No 1st Amendment kerfuffle. The cookie jar is on the high shelf. Done and done.

"At a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting Tuesday, city librarian Martin Gomez said making computer use as private as possible is the best solution," the L.A. Times story reads. "Gomez said all of the nearly 3,000 computers in the L.A. Public Library system are outfitted with screens that make it hard for bystanders to see the content, and librarians are working to reorient terminals so screens are less visible."

As far as some librarians are concerned, this solution is far more practical than what others might see as the obvious solution: Content filters. Libraries that receive public funding are permitted to use computer filters to block pornography and other obscene material, as long as they unblock content when requested by an adult patron. The Supreme Court made that decision in 2003. The L.A. public library system chooses not to.

Back in the day, kids dared each other to enter the far stacks where they might encounter men more-than-enjoying a flip through "Tropic of Cancer." The Internet changed everything. Jezebel's Irin Carmon writes:

This issue is as old as the Internet in public libraries, and it's been litigated on various fronts. A decade ago, librarians in Minnesota filed a complaint with the EEOC saying that "repeated exposure to sexually explicit materials," constituted a workplace environment of harassment and intimidation, and the commission sided with them. Separately, the Supreme Court ruledin 2002 that the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requiring filters on library computers forced librarians to violate the First Amendment rights of library patrons. 

Beyond abstract 1st Amendment arguments over who gets to decide what's obscene, there's the cost that filtering software imposes on cash-strapped public libraries. Further, all content filters are far from perfect. Blocking searches about breast cancer because of the word "breast," is the example the L.A. city librarian gave at the city council meeting, and that's the least of it.

When it came to the L.A. Chinatown library's pornography problem, the simple solution came not from the librarians but a community leader, according to the L.A. Times.

After hearing complaints from parents, Derek Ma, president of the L.A. County branch of the National Chinese Welfare Council, suggested the library "reorient" the computers.

Internet filters are a hot subject within Chinese immigrant community, where this story was widely covered. China blocks political content as well as pornography from Internet access, and community members reportedly accepted that the L.A. public library system has a policy of not blocking content.

So the computers were moved and complaints about pornography in the Chinatown branch have reportedly have stopped.

via Jezebel

More on the annoying way we live now:

Are your kids viewing porn in school?

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook.

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