The Tangled Web


This Column takes a good look at filtering. There are other articles in the same paper Here and a letter to the editor Here, all from the Hanover Mariner, in MA.

"There's a fine line between squelching freedom of speech and First Amendment rights, and protecting minors from potentially harmful material and images.

A broad interpretation of The First Amendment is that it allows people to make choices. Choices about what they believe in, what they don't believe in, and how they want to express those beliefs."


When it comes to filters (or lack thereof), I found we were spending as much time babysitting the adults as the children. Unfortunately. It really bummed me out to have to take the unfiltered terminal away, but there were images left up on the screen, either intentionally or because the site generated pop ups that couldn't be closed (and of course, task manager on this box was disabled) that were offensive to others.

I hate to say, but I think secretly the biggest concern of the librarians is hidden in this quote:

[Brown]said the library staff's ability to monitor children using computers especially gets taxed when the school day ends. "We are within walking distance of a lot of schools," said Brown. "When the school doors burst open at 2:10 p.m. they (schoolchildren) are here until they are picked up by their parents. It's quite a social scene. Somebody will sometimes brings a football and they are throwing it around in the parking lot."

Yeah, or they smuggle the football in and play in the stacks (happens to us sometimes). Or they throw snowballs at elderly patrons coming in. I know at our library this is a bigger concern, bigger than filters, about whether or not you can in good conscience throw a six year old out of the library for misbehaving on a day that's ten degrees and snowing. Where the hell are the parents?!?!

There has been much debate about filtering of the INTERNET. Aren't there professional ethics for librarians as any other profession? The public library is used by all ages and backgrounds. There is so much discussion about political correctness and almost none about sensitivity. The librarian is not a babysitter but is a trustworthy administrator of knowledge. The dispensing of knowledge is usually age appropriate or reading level appropriate. Why shouldn't that sensitivity be reflected in library operation. Children should not be exposed to porn either through commission or omission. Even the video stores have adult materials placed in special areas with limitation. The library should be a safe place for all its users and the public can expect that they can leave their children there safely.

Aren't there professional ethics for librarians as any other profession?

Sure, but how much can you care about professional ethics when you are in a full blown state of hysteria? What if those ethics are what you find so objectionable and offensive to begin with? The first principle of engaging in a review process is to sit down and talk with the complainant to see if you can work out a solution first. You can't do that with someone who has no interest in what you have to say or in due process.

Parents shouldn't be LEAVING their children anywhere. That is ridiculous. When children become of the age that they are able to assume more responsiblity for themselves (be it 12, 13 or 18) it is the PARENT's responsiblity to make sure their child is able to deal with the aspects of life that come with the privilege of using the public library unattended. Pornography is a billion dollar industry that isn't going away any time soon. Parents need to educate their children about the unpleasant aspects of the internet and teach their children not to look at pornography (goes along with that whole raising your child to have values and morals concept, -imagine that!) and if they see someone else looking at pornography, they should MOVE away (goes along with the novel concept of personal responsibility). And yes I AM a parent.

>>Parents shouldn't be LEAVING their children anywhere.

I disagree. Public libraries and schools must be the exception.

Public libraries are precariously close to losing public trust. Parents are unhappy, like it or not, that the right to access pornography supercedes a safe, child-friendly environment. This is reality.

Sure, it would be wonderful if mom and pop accompanied their child, but this is not reality.

Consider the following.

Library chaperones were never needed or mentioned in pre-web days. Why? Because a library only offered what was physically within its walls. Everything shelved had already been filtered by the librarian.. NetNanny in the flesh. The library was safe, exciting, wonderfully benign to little eyes. Second, what about the latchkey child with a working mother? Children from broken homes, children with crack heads parents, blah blah blah. You get my point. Parental involvement is an exception, a luxury for kiddies, but certainly not the rule anymore. Why would you penalize these children?

I’ll say it again. This business of parents needing to accompany their children to the library is bad business for our profession. A marketing nightmare. We needn’t look any further than the arrogance of public schools and the home schooling movement. Understand that with the Google mentality, we no longer hold a monopoly on information.

Eh, Tomeboy, forget about filters. Libraries have never been safe places to leave unattended younger children--not because of what lines the shelves or is accessible with keystrokes, but because of who occupies the chairs, tables and restrooms. Schools are entirely different--any adult in a school has allegedly gone through some sort of screening process. No such thing now, or ever, for a public library. It puts an undue burden on any library worker to make sure that every child who comes in unescorted remains safe. It's simply not possible. We do what we can to keep the place safe--adults who loiter in the childrens room are watched closely, small children who approach the adult bathrooms without a caregiver are directed to the children's room bathrooms, and adults are not allowed to use the children's bathroom. There are young kids who are street smart and mature enough to take care of themselves, but I'm dumbfounded at the tiny little ones (3-5 years old) who are left in the care of older (6-8!) siblings, who lack the maturity to take care of themselves, let alone toddlers. Such benign neglect doubles that penalty to which you allude.

Very good point - and it could happen anywhere - even a rural public library with low traffic

Children left at libraries because it was considered a "safe" place has always been a concern of librarians. If it's not the Internet, it will be the National Geographic magazines, or Glamour, or other magazines or books. One library I worked at in the pre-Internet days had a character who was turned on by pictures of pregnant women. Remember that saying that there is nothing new under the sun, just new ways of looking at things!

Rochelle – The context of "safe" in this thread concerns the potential to view obscene material. That was also the context of my reply. Your recommendation to “forget about filters� is only appreciated by those who wish to avoid an honest discussion.

What do you say we try again?

I do have a few questions if you don't mind.

Thanks in advance

1) How would you characterize the difference, if any, of public library's ability to offer visually obscene material in 1990 to that same library in 2004?

2) Is there any relationship between material type offered and clientele?

3) At what age, generally speaking of course, would you feel comfortable allowing a child to visit a library by him or herself?

Apples and oranges cchp.

Sex with a horse is not the same as naked pygmies. The former you would never find in a public library before 1993.

Parents know better, I know better and you know better. Respectfully, this type of disinformation is not only deceitful, but patronizing. Honesty. Please for the sake of our profession.

Although the original context was about obscene material via the internet, you contend that libraries were Mayberry-safe prior to widespread internet access. I don't mean to sidestep the filtering argument, but declare that you are flat out wrong that libraries would be so much safer for unattended kids if they provided filtered internet access.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by question 1. Number 2--I don't believe there is much difference between material offered and clientele. Libraries have always been a safe-haven for well-behaved creeps, who can get their jollies however they can--via Cosmo, the SI swimsuit issue, Sears catalog lingere pages, or by proximity to young, unattended people. 3) Speaking as a parent, I have only just this year let my socially immature 13 y.o. daughter stay at the library where I work without me. This is only after I told her what the potential (but very unlikely) dangers were and made sure she understood to go to the guard or one of my colleagues if she felt uncomfortable. I had zero concern about her seeing crap on someone else's computer.

I did a quick survey on google ("unattended children" and library) and found hundreds of policies, giving an age range of 8-12. When a library gives a specific age, it doesn't mean that kids that age should automatically be turned loose. Parents, should, ideally, have an idea when their kids are capable of coming to the library alone.

I don't have access to Library Lit any more, but would like to find some historical info about unattended kids--I'm pretty sure it's never been an acceptable practice.

I'm so old that I can remember Fidel Castro entering Havana LIVE on television (I was young and impressionable and thought "Those guys have beards and guns and everybody likes them! I want to grow up to be like them!", not realizing what was in the future). I grew up in a small city in Missouri (we pronounced it "Mizurah"). My parents didn't allow me (or my siblings) to go ANYWHERE unaccompanied until perhaps age 13-14 because there were "mean people" (their euphenism for pedophiles) and that included, unfortunately, the Public Library (which for us was a palace of wonders: BOOKS! and more books!). There had been unfortunate incidents over the years, dating back my mother's time: flashers, fiends, etc. So I agree with Rochelle. I don't think times are getting any better, either, which is why mia sposa and I carry on that policy with our own bambini.

Rochelle –My point is that we, librarians, are reluctant to truthfully acknowledge the impact of the internet upon our libraries. At least the bad part. Please, I love cyberland as much as the next geek but within the context of the public library, there is a dark side that must be honestly discussed. Invoking “free and open access� to the Web is misleading if not deceiving. Librarians historically, and still today, limit access to visually obscene material. I don’t need to remind anyone that what can be viewed in 30 seconds in Anytown PL today wouldn’t be found collectively in all public libraries just 10 years ago. Or in print today in these same libraries. It’s not about money either. I’ve yet to find a library willing to accept smut donations.

So, we have this innovation, rivaled only by Gutenberg’s press, yet we dismiss its impact as minimal with respect to what has historically been viewable or readable in a library. This nearly infinite digital tsunami, driven by self-publication no less, and we as librarians beat our chests proudly and defend every last bit and byte of it to be accessed within a library? The same library that won’t subscribe to Hustler or Penthouse, much less S&M Today, NAMBLA Times or Watersports. And even these latter publications are relatively benign compared to what can be found on thousands of listservs and on some of my workstations. But you know this Rochelle. And so do our patrons. Why lie?

Back to children and clientele. There is a relationship here. I work in an academic library, yet I still have my regular porn barnacles that only leave their seats to eat and urinate. I have the privilege of not have to worry about children seeing an erect penis shoved in crimson lips. I just clear the cache although I regularly get complaints from female students about residual porn splashed in their face via cached sites, pop ups, or open sessions. And this was possible back in 1990? For those who recite the breast cancer example with filters I suggest a novel approach. Buy books about breast cancer. Surely our collection development hasn't become Googleized as well?

The problem for public libraries is worse hence my contention of public libraries becoming less safe. The “creeps� that you refer to are attracted to free porn. More porn, more creeps. Many more creeps. Yesterdays occasional bathroom stalker has been replaced by a shameless, regular, creep clientele. Kids, 8-14, who I believe should not need a parent to chaperone, don’t need to be around these types of creeps that have no compunction about having themselves or their porn seen. But don’t take my word, talk to your stakeholders. But please do so in an honest manner.

I can tell you don't work in a public library. Creeps are a mainstay in public libraries and always have been. Many don't ever use the computers, so the computers are not the sole attraction.

Whenever a parent asks if it's okay to leave their young child alone in the library I tell them that it is entirely up to them, but as a public place it amounts to the same thing as leaving them in a mall (actually worse, as malls have security) or any other public place. If that is ok with them I remind them that we do not and can not watch their children. We would love to guarantee the safety of children in the library, believe me, we are glad they know where we are, but it simply isn't possible. We have had staff and patrons harassed by people who probably shouldn't have been allowed out in public on their own, but we can't control their access until they have done something wrong.

I have worked in public libraries. Visit them often and happen to serve on the board of one.

You're dismissing the creeps I refer to as porn barnacles. I'm not asking that you hold my child's hand, I'm asking you to be honest about the difference in what can be visually accessed today, compared to 10 years ago in a public library. (you may notice no one has taken up my challenge on "Fang's Omission". I invite you if interested)

I don't want my child around smut. Period. Neither do most parents.

Short of blindfolding my child as we walk pass the porn barnacles gazing at the 17 flat screens, I as a parent can do nothing.

How do you propose we fix this? Or is this just something we need to live with?