Report from Robert Willard On Dr. Laura

Cathy Gilletter was kind enough to send along an email
from Robert S. Willard, Executive Director National
Commission on Libraries and Information Science. He
was on the \"Lewd Libraries\" show on Friday,
and has more than
a few things to say about his experiences.

From: \"Bob Willard\"This week marks the
premiere of the syndicated
television show hosted by
Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The program dealing with
libraries, and
specifically access to inappropriate material on the
Internet by
children,
will air this Friday (9/15). The show is placed in different
time slots
in
different cities; a locator is at
http://www.drlaura.com/tv/watch.html
that
identifies the broadcast time in all cities where the
show is broadcast.
I
am disappointed to report that the name chosen for this
particular show
is
\"Lewd Libraries.\"


I participated in the show and I thought I would share
my impressions
about
the whole process.
Reply-To:
From: \"Bob Willard\"
To: \"\"
Subject: Dr. L. tv show
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2000 14:29:43 -0400
X-Priority: 3 (Normal)
Importance: Normal

(I am sending this note to friends and colleagues who, I
believe, have
an
interest in the topic. I have no objection to its being
further
circulated.)

This week marks the premiere of the syndicated
television show hosted by
Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The program dealing with
libraries, and
specifically access to inappropriate material on the
Internet by
children,
will air this Friday (9/15). The show is placed in different
time slots
in
different cities; a locator is at
http://www.drlaura.com/tv/watch.html
that
identifies the broadcast time in all cities where the
show is broadcast.
I
am disappointed to report that the name chosen for this
particular show
is
\"Lewd Libraries.\"

I participated in the show and I thought I would share
my impressions
about
the whole process.

The National Commission on Libraries and Information
Science (NCLIS) had
held a hearing on the topic \"Kids and the Internet: The
Promise and the
Peril\" in late 1998, and had sent material about the
hearing to Dr.
Schlessinger. As is known to just about everybody, she
has been an
unrelenting critic of library policies that may allow kids
to see
pornography on Internet terminals in public libraries. A
producer from
her
show contacted NCLIS on Monday, 7/31, to invite
participation in the
taping
which was scheduled for the end of that same week. I
agreed to take
part,
and was flown to Los Angeles Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning I went to the studio and shared a
waiting room with Larry
Worrall, an attorney who advises insurance companies
that provide
coverage
for libraries. We watched the first three-quarters of the
show fom our
room
on a small monitor. The show began with Dr.
Schlessinger describing
herself
as \"computer-stupid,\" and then simulating searches on
the Internet. She
was
alleging that one could get nasty sites by making typos
or slight
differences in a URL, so the first example, of course
was
whitehouse.com.
Then she claimed to misspell \"shareware\" and
connected with
sharware.com,
which (then, perhaps, but not now) was a porn site.
With both sites,
screenshots were displayed on a monitor with strategic
areas out of
focus.
Finally she claimed that entering the names of innocent
body parts could
get unwelcome results. She typed (with a lot more
keystrokes than
necessary) \"knee.\" She then looked at her computer
monitor, tilted her
head
to the side, said something like \"I didn\'t know you could
do that,\" and
then said she wouldn\'t display that picture to the
audience. I wonder
how
many searches will take place on \"knee\" on Friday. Of
course, I tried
it!
The first screen, naturally, was a list of sites. I really
didn\'t
explore
too long, but most sites seemed to discuss knee
surgery.

Next we saw a hidden camera segment where a
15-year old girl was wired
to
snoop on the Denver Public Library. She checked out
R-rated videos and
used
an Internet terminal to retrieve pornographic pictures.
This was
followed
by a second hidden camera foray with Mom present
questioning a Denver
librarian about the policy on checking out material.
Then Mom, Dad and
daughter appeared on the set with Dr. Schlessinger for
a brief
conversation.

The next two segments of the show featured U.S.
Representative Ernest
Istook and former librarian Heidi Borton. Mr. Istook
discussed his
filtering legislation and Ms. Borton described quitting
her job in
disagreement with her institutions\'s policy on Internet
access. (Ms.
Borton
had been a witness at the earlier NCLIS hearing.)

Finally, Mr. Worrall and I went on the set (and Borton
and Istook
remained
there too). In less than 10 minutes, discussion ranged
over many issues
including whether selection policy was a form of
censorship, a
Washington
Times article on political bias in libraries (I was familiar
with the
article and said the effort didn\'t even deserve to be
called research),
and
the effectiveness of filtering software. Certainly, there
was no
in-depth
conversation in this limited time.

The last segment focused on a brand new topic. A
woman from California,
Mrs. Shurtleff, was being lauded for her fight with the
library about
access to her daughter\'s borrowing records. Dr.
Schlessinger said she
couldn\'t imagine any circumstance where that
information should be
withheld. Although my part of the show was over, and I
was sitting on
the
opposite side of the audience, I piped up and said that I
could think of
an
example. That caused a little stir as cameras relocated
and Dr.
Schlessinger got up to ask me to explain. I quickly
described a
situation
in which a parent is abusing a child and the child
comes to the library
for
information on what to do; I said the parent should not
be able to know
that material was requested. Dr. Schlessinger
immediately dismissed that
example as a \"one in a zillion\" situation. I was
somewhat heartened
however
when, during the break before the credits, a young
woman came up and
tapped
me on the shoulder saying, \"I just want you to know I
agree with you;
she
doesn\'t know what goes on in the real world.\"

After an interminable session of applause by the
audience (background, I
presume, for rolling the credits), the show was over and
I made a
beeline
to the airport to see if I could get back home without
taking a
\"redeye.\" I
succeeded, and on the flight I spent a good deal of time
hunched over my
notebook computer drafting a letter to the Dr. Laura
Show. Essentially,
I
said that they could do the show any way they wanted,
but if they hoped
to
involve people who had a view contrary to Dr.
Schlessinger\'s, they could
not continue the format I experienced. I complained
about the lack of
time
to discuss the issues, and then set forth the points that
I would have
liked to discuss: 1) Internet access policy should be
determined locally
(that was the position of NCLIS) and that national
legislation calling
for
filtering was an inappropriate, unfunded mandate; 2)
filtering
technology
was imperfect and not a panacea; and 3) the real
shameful activity
taking
place in school libraries, which Dr. Schlessinger could
do something
about
if she wished, was the woefully inadequate level of
funding. I also
expressed regret at her sensationalizing of the subject
with reference
to
\"sex in the libraries\" and \"X-rated\" libraries and called
for her to
work
together with librarians to address the issue of
potential harm to kids.
(I\'d be glad to email a copy of the letter to anyone who
requests it.)

That was the end of it, I thought, but early Tuesday
evening, August 29,
I
received a rushed call from the producer. She told me
they had taken the
show to focus groups and they needed to reshoot part
of the show. Could
I
come back? She also mentioned my letter. It sounded
like I would get a
chance to discuss the topic more fully, and I readily
agreed to fly out
again for a taping Friday morning.

As it turned out, not much changed the second time. I
learned that the
first taping was a \"test\" show; I suppose if it tested well,
it would
have
aired. However, an almost entirely new show needed to
be produced. Only
the
undercover camera work from the Denver Public Library
was retained,
pricipally because the family could not return to L.A. (I
guess
sharp-eyed
viewers will notice a wholesale shift in the audience
between segments!)
If
anything, the new show was a little more tawdry. Mr.
Istook, discussing
his
dry legislation, was no longer on the docket; instead, a
Louisiana
police
chief was there to discuss the arrest of a 38-year old
man who had
masturbated at a public library Internet terminal in view
of two young
teenage girls. The chief argued that every single
terminal in libraries
should have blocking software. Heidi Borton was
invited back; she
acknowledged the NCLIS position supporting local
policymaking, but said
it
didn\'t go far enough.

On the other hand however, there was also included as
a panelist Sally
Romano, a First Amendment lawyer currently involved
in a case in her
home
state of Texas similar to the Loudon County case. In the
audience, there
was also an individual brought in by the show to
participate in the
discussion: Mike Wessells, an ALA member who is
described as both a
fundamentalist Christian pastor and an intellectual
freedom advocate.
Both
participated in an articulate and effective manner.

The final segment was again the recogition of the
mother who wanted to
see
her daughter\'s borrowing record. This time, the
opportunity to interurpt
didn\'t present itself, so my earlier example remains
forever on the
cutting
room floor!

I did\'t have a stop-watch with me, but my gut
assessment is that I had
no
more time than on the first show. Despite encouraging
words by members
of
the production staff who mentioned my letter and told
me this was my
chance
to make my points, it really didn\'t work out that way.
Again, the
limited
time, the need for breaks between segments, and the
time Dr.
Schlessinger
used to read from the teleprompter a lengthy statement
of her views,
just
didn\'t allow for any meaningful dialogue. Regretfully, Dr.
Schlessinger
continues to demonize librarians and ALA instead of
seeking some way to
work together to resolve this issue. But maybe that\'s the
way to build
up
an audience in television.

I don\'t know what the appropriate next steps are. It is
said that
Abraham
Lincoln was asked once to comment on a particular
book and he said that
it
was the type of book that would appeal to people who
like that type of
book. Maybe the same is true of the Dr. Laura Show. If it
is watched
only
by those who agree with her and have made up their
mind to focus on the
solitary issue of access to pornography and ignore all
the good things
done
by libraries and librarians, then perhaps no further effort
should be
expended. However, I strongly believe in the \"come, let
us reason
together\"
approach to problem-solving. Whether that approach
will work with Dr.
Schlessinger and her followers remains to be seen.
-Bob

Robert S. Willard
Executive Director
National Commission on Libraries and Information
Science
1110 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 820
Washington, DC 20005-3552
Phone: 202-606-9200; fax: 202-606-9203
Cell phone: 202-255-8306
Email: bwillard@nclis.gov

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