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Give it up, morality crusade.  This is a microcosm of a larger controversy as old as mankind.  It is impossible to control, or even reasonably set boundaries, beyond obvious examples like materials involving child abuse (and even there, real control is largely illusionary).  Attempts to declare pornography as somehow verboten but graphic violence acceptable, are tilting at windmills in an age where a leading television series is Game of Thrones and a best-selling book is 50 Shades of Grey.  Any reasonable person would be offended by much of what some people consider to be entertainment -- animal abuse in particular makes me incredibly angry.  But attempting to control public viewing of materials as discussed in this article is a losing proposition, one that simply leads the way toward expanding and hopeless (but still very damaging) censorship regime attempts. - Lauren 
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21 comments
 
Definitely a thorny issue for libraries. They want to be an open channel to information, but there are some people who abuse the public computers (so to speak). There are often children wandering around ... and adults that don't care for having porn shared with them. It's very hard to craft meaningful policies.
 
Sounds like a good use case for Google Glasses.
 
How about people playing Warcraft or Farmville?
 
+Steve Faktor I largely agree with you. But, game playing or porn or whatever, libraries have to be as neutral as possible in not determining how their computers are used.
 
+Steve Faktor You nicely reiterated the problem, but how do you propose fixing it without, as Lauren indicates, sliding right down the slippery slope of censorship? My partner is doing research on sex work and AIDS. Her research may look a lot like your porn. We may agree that resources should go first to people not there for entertainment, but in practice, there's no way to craft a law to tell the difference.
 
I've worked in three libraries in public computing-related positions.  To my mind, most of the public computer usage I see is a waste of bandwidth. Still, it's not the library's job to determine what's a better usage, it's just their job to try to provide the information channel in as equitable a way as possible.
 
+Steve Faktor I don't think there's a professional in the library business who would agree with you on that, even though they might well be sympathetic to that idea.
 
Filters are not only technically unreliable and easily bypassed even by relatively young children, but have consistently proven to be untrustworthy, heavy-handed, prone to political and religious manipulation and shoddy quality controls, plus other factors that lead to unacceptably high levels of inappropriate blocking, even under their own ostensible rules.  Just ask the Chinese people about filters.
 
+Lauren Weinstein  Most  (not all) people you find sitting at public computers aren't capable of any but the simplest workarounds. In fact, library staff spends a lot of time helping them with things most computer-literate people find obvious. It's heart-breaking to watch over someone's shoulder as they submit a resume that is hopelessly poor quality.
 
+Steve Faktor Try working in a library. If you believe in freedom of speech and freedom of information, you'll find there are some real limitations to what you can do. That's even if you really do think computers aren't being put to, as they say in real estate, their "highest and best use." I agree with your sentiments, but the practice is much different.
 
+Steve Faktor Comparison with China is utterly relevant.  Apart from scale, you're parroting much the same sort of arguments we've heard from Chinese censorship officials for years. "For the good of the Chinese People."
 
+Steve Faktor That's part of what libraries do ... afford computing / internet resources for those who can't get access otherwise. It's an important role.
 
+Steve Faktor I'm not trying to be snide when I say this, but no one ever asked you what kind of book you were using the library resources to write, did they? Again, I share some of your feelings and am appalled at a lot of what I see, but as long as they're not being disruptive, whatever the usage is fair. The people talking loudly on Skype will be dealt with. ;)  The smell of some of the worst offenders is something we can't do much about except retreat. There are limits, though, and cities have tried to craft ordinances to deal with that.
 
Justice Cardozo once said "you can't satisfy the needs of the smoker and non-smoker in the same train carriage."  I think it applies here. 

The library in the small town where I live has two banks of 4 terminals each. One side of each bank faces the wall, one side the interior of the library. The wall side is unfiltered. The interior side has parental controls. Under 16 (or so, not exactly sure) are not allowed to use the unfiltered side without prior written parental consent. 

It seems to be a compromise that everyone is happy with (or at least no one has complained about). 
 
I don't remember where I saw this, but I came across two rules for civilized society.

1. Don't easily give offense.
2. Don't easily be offended.

It seems that your point leans heavily on rule two. We make determinations about what is acceptable in public spaces all the time.  For example, we generally don't let people strip naked in them.  In fact, if I go down to the library and strip naked in the public area, the police are going to come haul me away for public indecency.  Is it really a big leap from there to having picture of naked people prominently displayed on the monitor?  If someone was being insensitive to the people around them and talking loudly, it would be within the librarian's rights to ask them to quiet down or leave.  Why not the same with gratuitous viewing of porn?  

Yes, there are quite legitimate reasons for looking at nude pictures of people.  But is it too much to ask that someone exercise a little bit of rule one?  Tell the librarian you need to look at sensitive material.  Use a kiosk in a private area.

I don't really buy the slippery slope argument, either.  Not that long ago we had a guy strip naked in the security line at the airport to protest the invasive procedure.  The judge acquitted him.  His right to convey that message outweighed the issue of public exposure.  We can have an ongoing debate that pulls us to a middle ground without succumbing to absolutism at either end of the spectrum.  
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