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NYC’s Porn District Moved Indoors to New York Public Libraries
April 27, 2011 10:48 PM   Subscribe

"It’s a safe bet that most hard-core porn watchers anywhere aren’t doing it to expand their minds, and computer keys are germy enough as they are." -- Death and Taxes

Also: NY Daily News, Time.
posted by inkyroom (201 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Get closer to me, Carl Monday!

I like an audience.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:53 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Next month they implement the gooey decimal system.
posted by mannequito at 10:55 PM on April 27, 2011 [25 favorites]


There's nothing particularly surprising about this. Go to any big city's public libraries and you'll see plenty of dudes trying to nonchalantly block out the screen while they surf porn.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:55 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It'd be best if they removed all those dirty words from the dictionary too.
posted by polyhedron at 10:58 PM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The only problem I have with porn in libraries is that their connections can be kind of slow.
posted by DavidandConquer at 11:10 PM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm all for free speech, but the reason why pr0n shouldn't be in libraries is for the same reason we don't generally let people expose themselves in public. The right to free speech isn't the right to do whatever the hell you want, and the library has a perfect right to police its public spaces.

Heck, libraries already limit free speech: you'll get a stern talking-to if you, say, shout to your friend across the stacks.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:14 PM on April 27, 2011 [25 favorites]


I grew up in Maryland in the 1980's and my mind is still blown by the fact that at the tender age of 12 or so you could ask the librarian for any Playboy of your choosing. You just had to tell her the month and year and she'd bring it out to you, regardless of your age.

Did I dream that?
posted by bardic at 11:35 PM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I imagine the librarians at the New York Public Libraries have actual reasons why they'd insist on this. Librarians tend to have certain ideas about what free speech means. It'd be nice to hear from them, instead of a cartoon version of them presented by a sleaze-loving tabloid and repeated verbatim in various blogs.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 PM on April 27, 2011 [8 favorites]



I'm all for free speech, but the reason why pr0n shouldn't be in libraries is for the same reason we don't generally let people expose themselves in public. The right to free speech isn't the right to do whatever the hell you want, and the library has a perfect right to police its public spaces.


Well, no.

There is no "reason" they shouldn't, other than your own personal sense of decency.

This issue falls into the issues of morality. It's all a subjective notion of each individual, as is almost everything we do as humans.

It's just fucking. After a certain age, every does it, or wants to do it.

So why do we hide it, stigmatize it, culturally deride the silliness that is "porn?"

I'm a fan of the fact that a "public" library allows the "public" to look up whatever
the hell they want.
posted by gcbv at 11:43 PM on April 27, 2011 [22 favorites]


Ugh, I don't know what the official library policies are in SoCal, but I've used Burbank's, Pasadena's, and LAPL's and EVERY time I go, without fail, I see at least *one* person watching porn, if not more. I've never seen someone watching porn on a COLAPL computer, but I don't go to COLAPL locations that much. Thankfully, I've never actually seen anyone masturbating -- which makes the whole thing even more curious, frankly. Either they're being covert about it or running off to the bathroom, I guess.

I'm surprised it's actually allowed at the New York libraries. I might feel differently if it weren't so easy to see it without even trying to, just walking by, but it seems like if you're not allowed to flash your junk in public, and there are zoning laws for strip clubs, and there are generally rules about what kind of videos you can show in public places or places where there are children, and we have restrictions on how old you have to be to get into certain movies or buy certain games, then what the fuck? I watch porn myself, but other people shouldn't be subjected to it when they're just walking around the library -- especially when a number of the library patrons aren't even old enough to legally access the sites on their own.

To me, that is a lot different than having racy books around. If someone's reading a racy book, it looks exactly like anyone reading anything else. You'd have to invade their personal space and get right over their shoulder to even know, and you'd have nothing drawing your attention to get you that close in the first place. Unlike someone watching porn, where if you're just walking around trying to find a free computer, or you turn the corner while walking, bam, there it is.

I don't see a great way around that unless you can make the computers more private -- in which case, they probably would get a lot more people actually masturbating. We routinely restrict freedom of speech when it comes to sexualized acts in public places, and when there are exceptions, they're clear and well-known so people can choose to go there or not. For a myriad of reasons, we've decided that people should have a choice in whether they're subjected to something gratuitously sexual, and while I suppose some people find that prude, I think it's generally pretty easy to adhere to and is especially respectful toward people who have been sexually assaulted (a LOT of people) or whose religions disallow them to be around sexualized displays.

I don't think a public library is the sort of place people should have to start weighing whether or not they want to research their paper and feel uncomfortable or even threatened or blasphemous, versus -- well, not researching their paper at all, for a lot of people. When we have sexualized neighborhoods, or parks, or beaches, or whatever, you can always go to a non-sexualized one instead. If the entire library system near you is sexualized, what are you supposed to do? The point of libraries is to help everyone learn, but especially those who can't afford those things otherwise, and then the books aren't always available other places even if you do have money. The people that really need the public library generally can't afford to just travel to get to another library system, and they don't have their own computer.

I actually do feel sort of bad for people that can't afford access to sexualized material too, but to me the trade-off is absurd. Free access to knowledge makes a lot of sense, whereas free access to porn -- well, if you want to argue the government should provide for that too, there's no reason it needs to be in a library. It makes about as much sense there as it would in a school or a post office. There's no good reason why sexual gratification needs to be a public right.
posted by Nattie at 11:48 PM on April 27, 2011 [57 favorites]


Only dirty, nasty people like to have sex, or look at people having sex, or think about sex! This not only has no business in a library, it has no business in a civilized society. The only reason this crap is allowed to continue is those damned Republicans being such insane sex maniacs, with their multiple wives and sex scandals everywhere.
posted by Goofyy at 11:50 PM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is no "reason" they shouldn't, other than your own personal sense of decency.

This issue falls into the issues of morality. It's all a subjective notion of each individual, as is almost everything we do as humans.

It's just fucking. After a certain age, every does it, or wants to do it.


Yes, we should also be allowed to take a shit on the library floor or in the street, because bowel movements are natural. If someone else doesn't want to see you take a shit, they just need to get over it, right?
posted by Nattie at 11:51 PM on April 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


Only dirty, nasty people like to have sex, or look at people having sex, or think about sex!

Respectfully, that's a straw man.
posted by Nattie at 11:52 PM on April 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yes, we should also be allowed to take a shit on the library floor or in the street, because bowel movements are natural. If someone else doesn't want to see you take a shit, they just need to get over it, right?

I take it you don't live in NYC.
posted by gcbv at 11:54 PM on April 27, 2011 [36 favorites]


I can think of two other good reasons the librarians might go for this:

1. They don't want to be forced to police the people who use the computers. If they can make a rule like this, the public will force them to do it.

2. They don't want to be forced to put more filtering software on the machines, as it is generally expensive, useless, and could compromise them for actual useful purposes.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:58 PM on April 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


For those in favor of censorship: Who decides what is pornography and what isn't? Is a sex ed video porn? How about Wikipedia's entry for "penis"? How about European media in which bare breasts are no big deal?

re: shit on the floor

That's a straw man. Shit on the floor presents a health risk that porn on the screen does not.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:00 AM on April 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yes, we should also be allowed to take a shit on the library floor or in the street, because bowel movements are natural. If someone else doesn't want to see you take a shit, they just need to get over it, right?

Respectfully, that's a straw man.
posted by kafziel at 12:02 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


JINX

now you guys gotta watch porn together in the library
posted by Mikey-San at 12:03 AM on April 28, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think we can all agree that we do not have free speech, and that free speech is not in and of its self the only issue. We are all have the right to free speech (some places, some times, with some content.) and they could censor the internet just like most public places do.

What I do wonder is why they allow porn: free speech advocacy, lack of personal to enforce?
posted by Felex at 12:11 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just glad homeless people finally have a place to jerk off in public without being bothered.
posted by phaedon at 12:13 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I grew up with a love of knowledge, not sex. Most of that was formed through spending long, lonely hours in the library.
I obviously don't support government filtering of obscene material but their should be limits in library computers. That said, there is probably erotic/arousing material somewhere in the library's normal collections. Even Playboy has a huge number of legitimate articles.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:29 AM on April 28, 2011


This policy is not exactly going to help build support for free public libraries. But who cares about free public libraries?
posted by pracowity at 12:29 AM on April 28, 2011


That's a straw man. Shit on the floor presents a health risk that porn on the screen does not.

what the porn results in is the health issue
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:30 AM on April 28, 2011


gcbv :It's just fucking.

No, actually it's not.
It's silicone enlarged crack queens being beaten and demeaned by men with digitally enhanced penises.
It's youngish looking women in school girl outfits with ejaculate on their faces.

It's all that and it's visible to anyone's daughter or son that happens to be walking by one of the cretins who are viewing it. And frankly I'm not too keen on viewing it myself.

As BungaDunga said, the right to free speech doesn't give to the right to do whatever the hell that you want. You want to look at that stuff privately more power to you but you don't have the right to expose me to ...wait let me rephrase ... shove it in my face ... CRAP! I HATE porn topics... whatever - you know what I mean.

To me it's a no-brainer . Go do it in private. Keep it out of my everyday life.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:30 AM on April 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


Let's make a deal. We'll put the porno computers in their own small rooms with no windows. Keep feeding quarters into the computer to keep the porn going, this way these computers and rooms can pay for themselves. We'll also insert holes in the walls between the computer rooms approximately 4 inches wide with padding on the edges so people can communicate with each other and not hurt themselves. People can develop a communication system that involves inserting your fingers in the hole to indicate that you want to pass a "message" between one another.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:33 AM on April 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


That's a straw man. Shit on the floor presents a health risk that porn on the screen does not.

Yeah, I'll concede that much, and even ignore the possibility of ejaculate on public keyboards because it doesn't necessarily follow. But still: why do we have bathroom stalls? Because as natural as taking a crap is, people don't want to see other people do it, and there's not any fantastic reason why someone has the right to have others watch them take a crap. No one is saying you can't take a crap or you can't watch porn, it's just not a huge deal to say you can't do it in front of other people who don't want to see it. Very few people freak out about how it's restricting their freedom not to be able to take a crap in front of other people, even if they do it into a plastic bag or clean up after themselves. That's "decency." That's saying the trade-off here isn't a big deal.

Witnessing sexualized acts is similar -- except worse in a lot of ways for people who've been victims of sexual assault. Given what a large portion of the population that includes, I'm not prepared to just be "oh get the fuck over it" about it. Lots of things can traumatize people, but both sex and violence have stronger sensations/feelings attached to them than most other human activities, which is why we're more sensitive to letting people choose what they see. We warn for those things in movies because they trigger unwanted emotional responses in people, and you don't have to think sex is dirty to have that response triggered. In fact, I think it's a particularly offensive and dismissive assumption to make just because someone doesn't want to see you have sex, or see you watch other people have sex, or whatever.

I basically don't think "decency" should be sneeringly abandoned because it's an imperfect concept -- "decency" means making small sacrifices in freedom/behavior if it appreciably helps other people can feel comfortable, and society wouldn't function without it. Banning porn from the entire country, yeah, that would be too big a sacrifice to make, because if someone watches porn in private they're not bothering anyone or subjecting them to things that necessarily trigger very different and powerful emotions in people. But not watching porn at the library where other people can see it -- are you kidding me? Do you think you should be able to watch porn at the post office, too, or a public children's hospital, and to say you couldn't would be a sign of prudishness or disdain for natural behavior? Do you think you should be able to whip it out anywhere, or have sex anywhere? That's a sincere question, I'm not trying to be snarky. I honestly don't know what you would say.

I don't really care too much about the issue of "what is porn and what isn't" because we're always forced to find a balance of what's over-restrictive versus what isn't; the lack of a clear bright line doesn't mean we should just shrug our shoulders and say, "fuck everyone who feels uncomfortable, PORN IN ALL PUBLIC PLACES!" In reality, if someone was watching any of those things, and someone complained, then the librarian would make a judgment call. Probably the sex ed video and the wikipedia article would be fine, and maybe sometimes the Euro movie wouldn't be, maybe it would. I don't find that particularly alarming. Anything that is a big deal gets resolved by court cases, etc. Grey areas aren't a call to inaction, they're just places where people have to think and then everyone talks about it after.
posted by Nattie at 12:35 AM on April 28, 2011 [33 favorites]


While the policy falls in line with a federal law stipulating that libraries that receive public funding must install filters to block obscenity and child porn, it acknowledges that anyone over 17 can simply turn the filters off.

What ? are they just not installing the filters correctly? Its really not that hard to filter out a lot fo the porn out there. certainly there will be tricky ways around it but it shouldn't be difficult to block most of it in a way that is not so easily subverted.

Sounds like their IT department is just shit.
posted by mary8nne at 12:43 AM on April 28, 2011


Mitrovarr has it right with #2. It is too expensive to have computers constantly monitored. Libraries are already stretched to the breaking point on their budgets... but people demand more and more services without giving thought to where the money is going to come from.

If some sort of oversight is required, many libraries will be forced to remove their computers entirely. I think the public's loss of access to computers would be far worse than the inevitable use of computers in uncomfortable ways.
posted by Maxson at 12:47 AM on April 28, 2011


Poet_Lariat has a point, too. There is a wide variety of porn out there, and no matter how sex-positive someone is, most people can remember some instance of porn that they found alarming or seriously upsetting -- and not in an "eww lol" sort of way. If someone doesn't want to see a woman choked until she has tears in her eyes, or slapped, or punched, or take part in simulated rape, or be taken advantage of in a club when she's nearly passed out -- and here I'm not even knocking fetish videos, I'm talking about the ones that have the exact same actions but none of the underlying respect and the woman seems genuinely afraid or distraught -- well, that doesn't mean they think sex is dirty or they should just get over it and not be bothered by people being beat and demeaned. But free speech, right? It's reasonable for people to expect to see that sort of thing, right?

You don't know what kind of porn someone will be watching. Even if only a fraction of the people watching porn watch that sort of thing, there's no good reason why other people should have to see it. Oh, but then we could just ban certain types of porn, right? Well, then who decides what's a friendly slap and what's seriously kind of fucked up? Isn't it just a hell of a lot easier to say maybe it's not a big deal if people can't watch porn at libraries?

I'm only mildly irked, personally, when I see someone watching porn at the library; I don't bother to report them out of pity that someone has to go to the library to watch porn, and out of pity for the librarian that would have to deal with them. Most porn doesn't adversely effect me, for whatever reason. The kind of stuff I described above, though? I think I should have a reasonable expectation to go to the library without worrying I'm going to see something that turns my stomach or brings tears to my eyes. And I'm also not going to callously write off anyone who has that reaction to anything less than what triggers me.
posted by Nattie at 12:56 AM on April 28, 2011 [16 favorites]


About the expense: one of the library systems I go to doesn't have any filters at all, but when I looked up their policies you still aren't allowed to watch porn, i.e. if you someone gets reported for doing it, they're dealt with in some way. I don't think you necessarily have to have software to block the stuff as long as there's a policy and recourse when it actually bothers someone.

Still have a lot of sympathy for librarians that have to personally enforce it, though...
posted by Nattie at 12:59 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's porn on the internet!?!?
posted by chavenet at 1:08 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once the rule is established, people will find all sorts of ways to dodge it. For example: a man approaches the librarian and says, somewhat apologetically, that he is an artist and he needs videos of women being raped in order to finish his (controversial but very very artistic) work. If this excuse works... I guarantee many people will suddenly declare themselves controversial artists.

Yet what if one of them really IS trying to produce meaningful art regarding this subject? We can't subject everyone to intense scrutiny, and I don't think that would solve anything anyway ("Sir, are you aroused right now? How about now?"). If we shut it all down, we're effectively saying that videos of women being raped should not be examined in public libraries, regardless of any merit behind the viewing.
posted by Maxson at 1:11 AM on April 28, 2011


Mannequito wrote: Next month they implement the gooey decimal system.

No, you can't use that system for a library of congress.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:12 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Would something calmer suit ya?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:20 AM on April 28, 2011


Once the rule is established, people will find all sorts of ways to dodge it.

Er... okay, but what? The rule that you're not allowed to watch porn is currently the usual rule at most libraries. Right now, at public libraries, you pretty much can't watch videos of women being raped, and this has been so pretty much since computers were in libraries. I... haven't noted any significant societal damage as a result of this rule, nor libraries making exceptions to the rule for tricky masturbators that caused Widespread Fervor.

I'm not saying that there's never a non-masturbatory purpose to watching that sort of material, because yeah, there are scholars who study porn and there are artists who wrestle with some heavy stuff. But they're enough in the minority that if they have to view that stuff, they can probably find another place to do it; it's very unlikely a significant amount of these people would overlap with those who have no other options. It would probably be generous to say these people are even half a percent of the library-going population.

Compare that to amount of library-goers who literally cannot afford to go elsewhere, or cannot find some particular material elsewhere, plus the sheer numbers of people who have been sexually assaulted PLUS the people who haven't but would still naturally find those videos stomach-churning... I dunno, maybe I'm weird but it doesn't seem like a big deal to say "sry no rape videos at the library."

This conversation is turning surreal.
posted by Nattie at 1:26 AM on April 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


fuck everyone who feels uncomfortable

Okay now that's just a bit of an over-reaction, don't you think?
posted by WalterMitty at 1:28 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because as natural as taking a crap is, people don't want to see other people do it, and there's not any fantastic reason why someone has the right to have others watch them take a crap.

As a complete aside, I've always been utterly horrified that US public toilet stalls have huge gaps around them. You can see everything. I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT.
posted by londonmark at 1:30 AM on April 28, 2011


Pooping on the floor is not a moral issue. It is a sanitary issue. It is a health hazard that creates victims.

Some people do not like looking at women breastfeed; however, when they perform this natural function, they do not harm any other person; therefore, it should be allowed even if some people do not like to see it.

Porn morality seems to be closer to breastfeeding than pooping in libraries even if there is porn made for each. Breastfeeding and porn literature do not have victims. Pooping indiscriminately does.
posted by Knigel at 1:35 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Breastfeeding is grosser than hardcore porn.)
posted by Mooseli at 1:38 AM on April 28, 2011


Porn morality seems to be closer to breastfeeding than pooping in libraries

Perhaps if you spent more time watching internet porn you would reconsider this opinion
posted by londonmark at 1:41 AM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Okay now that's just a bit of an over-reaction, don't you think?

I don't entirely follow? The way I'm interpreting the argument in favor of allowing porn -- or at least the ones I was responding to -- is that decency shouldn't have a place in what's allowed or what isn't, because people have different ideas of what's decent. If we dispatch with the guideline of decency altogether, and instead allow for porn on the basis that of one opinion that "sex is natural and it's stupid to be bothered by it" in what way does that not amount to "fuck everyone who feels uncomfortable?"

Am I misinterpreting something, or is it the language that that sounds like an over-reaction? If it's the latter, fair enough; here: "we can't be bothered to accomodate those who are uncomfortable because it's too much work." However it's phrased, it's deciding that the feelings of those who are uncomfortable have no bearing on anything because we don't have perfect agreement, and instead we'll just upset a lot of people rather than bother to find some ground where no one is all that upset. To me, it is not that terribly upsetting or restrictive to not watch porn at the library, whereas lots of people fall on a spectrum of having awful involuntary emotional responses to graphic material. To just dismiss those in the second group as oversensitive is a pretty big "fuck you" so I choose the language I did, but either way.
posted by Nattie at 1:46 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was a joke, mainly because I was so clearly taking that one line out of context of the rest of your argument. Clearly it was a pretty bad joke. Sorry.

Carry on.
posted by WalterMitty at 1:47 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mooseli, it takes courage to speak of one's past experiences. While few can say that they have not partaken in the nipple, fewer admit their raunchy endeavors.

(By the way, which title are you most proud of performing?)
posted by Knigel at 1:47 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This conversation is turning surreal.

So far I'd say it's a standard Free Speech But Decency vs. Free Speech As Absolute argument. Practically speaking, I accept that strict adherence to free speech can produce some very unappealing results- just look at the Westboro Baptist Church. Despite this, I remain an advocate of Free Speech As Absolute mainly because I feel restrictions on speech 1) are extremely difficult to get rid of and 2) can be used as a lever to produce further restrictions on speech.

To just dismiss those in the second group as oversensitive is a pretty big "fuck you" so I choose the language I did, but either way.

Personally, I feel that upsetting people is less important than the setbacks these two reasons generate, but... that's just my opinion. There's no way to justify making people uncomfortable beyond claiming the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. You have been more than polite when faced with this opposing opinion (thank you for that, by the way) and I have no intention of degrading the conversation.

I'd be more than willing to discuss these issues, but honestly speaking, it's nearly 5 AM over here and I'm tired. Let us agree to disagree on this subject and part amicably. I hope (against hope!) that this remains a pleasant thread for everyone involved.
posted by Maxson at 1:52 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Londonmark, I'm willing to hear you out. Please explain more. From the way I was arguing, even the worst of the worst porn is only viewed and causes no victims. While there may be victims in the making of porn, there are really no victims from someone sitting in the library watching porn. Pooping on the floor, however, does create victims. Looking over someone's shoulder as they view surgery photos can also be disturbing; however, I doubt we should remove them from the libraries.

No, I still think that viewing porn in libraries is more similar to breastfeeding than pooping. (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were reading my comment in context)
posted by Knigel at 1:55 AM on April 28, 2011


If this excuse works... I guarantee many people will suddenly declare themselves controversial artists.

Has this excuse worked for you? Because I think if someone approached me with a lame story about "needing to watch rape videos ... for their art" I would subject them to "intense scrutiny" and if they looked aroused or sketchy (as I define "sketchy" in the circumstances), then I'd call security. It's happened before. Don't like it? Fine. Sue me.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:56 AM on April 28, 2011


One problem with web filters is that you will have false positives (something that isn't actually porn will be marked as such and won't get through) and false negatives (something that is porn is overlooked and will still get through). I can understand how that is a freedom of speech issue.

Furthermore, would library patrons be able to see a list of blocked URLs? If not, then why not? Don't you deserve to know what is being censored, and why?

I grew up in the '90s with CyberPatrol on my computer for a while. If a URL happened to have "sex" in it, it was banned. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, I kept discovering that would rule out pages with file names like "[plural noun]example.html" without any pornographic content.
posted by autoclavicle at 1:59 AM on April 28, 2011


Some people do not like looking at women breastfeed; however, when they perform this natural function, they do not harm any other person; therefore, it should be allowed even if some people do not like to see it.

I don't think it should be a problem to breastfeed in public. It's not a sexualized activity. So: yes, some people disagree, right? But at least there, fewer people are bothered than by outright sex, and there is a stronger argument to make that the restriction on the woman who needs to feed her child is an unreasonable sacrifice to appease another person's uncomfortable feelings. Breastfeeding is also much less likely to trigger someone's sexual assault PTSD. When you weigh the restrictions on each side, there is a much clearer case (ast least to me) that breastfeeding is something we can more reasonably expect people to just accept.

Breastfeeding and porn literature do not have victims.

Porn literature, as in written stuff, that other people won't be subjected to when they walk by -- sure, no problem. Honestly, I read and write the stuff, sometimes even messed up stuff. But porn videos, which other people do inadvertently see, do sometimes even explicitly have victims; see a few earlier comments about how violent some porn is, and how sketchy consent can be. Past that, for the majority of porn, let me gently suggest reading about what triggers PTSD for sexual assault victims; it's not as simple as that, though the world would be a lot better if it was.

A far greater number of people are going to be seriously emotionally rattled, and to a far greater extent, if they turn the corner and see themselves watching a graphic sex act than if they see someone breastfeeding.
posted by Nattie at 2:01 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thanks Maxson; that's cool, and you've been quite nice too. :-)
posted by Nattie at 2:02 AM on April 28, 2011


One other issue is being able to distinguish between "porn" and erotica. The two are difficult to differentiate and I really don't see why people shouldn't be allowed to view erotica in a library.
posted by Knigel at 2:02 AM on April 28, 2011


"One other issue is being able to distinguish between "porn" and erotica. The two are difficult to differentiate and I really don't see why people shouldn't be allowed to view erotica in a library."

But, you posit that viewing porn in a library isn't harmful to others. Why would you think that there should be differentiation at all?
posted by autoclavicle at 2:05 AM on April 28, 2011


Nattie, I think that your concerns could be easily resolved by more private terminals. Have them shielded from sight public sight.
posted by Knigel at 2:06 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To just dismiss those in the second group as oversensitive is a pretty big "fuck you" so I choose the language I did, but either way.

And there are people who would censor your post because it included the word "fuck". Like the FCC. I don't want those people telling me what I can or cannot view on a library computer. Nor do I want an overzealous automatic filter to block plannedparenthod.org.

But look, there's a really simple way to solve this problem: Two computer rooms, one with voluntary porn filters and one without. Done.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:07 AM on April 28, 2011


I actually wouldn't mind that, yeah. I just don't envy the janitor, heh.
posted by Nattie at 2:07 AM on April 28, 2011


No, I still think that viewing porn in libraries is more similar to breastfeeding than pooping. (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were reading my comment in context)

I was being flippant, but I think your view of porn is rather rosey if you think it's all wholesome adults making sweet love. I'm not sure where I stand on the argument, but I do know that the spectrum of internet porn leads down some pretty dark tunnels.

I also think the public health argument is irrelevant. Nobody here seems to be arguing that internet porn is a physical hazard, so the comparison is false.
posted by londonmark at 2:08 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Autoclavicle, I bring it up because I know that it is a complex issue that involves many levels of censorship and freedoms. First, there is no victim if someone is viewing material privately. Second, if we discuss censorship, the degrees are difficult to manage.
posted by Knigel at 2:09 AM on April 28, 2011


So far I'd say it's a standard Free Speech But Decency vs. Free Speech As Absolute argument.

Watching porn is not free speech. Producing porn is only marginally arguably so, and only so long as you're willing to completely distort the intent of your founding fathers. The point was all about philosophies, religious & political beliefs, not the right to watch XXX Barely Legal Teens Get Gangbanged Up The Butthole.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:11 AM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Nobody here seems to be arguing that internet porn is a physical hazard, so the comparison is false.

Yeah, I regret sparking that; honestly when I said it I was thinking in terms of "people not liking to watch things regardless of how natural they are" but it wasn't clear from my phrasing that I wasn't talking about just merely seeing it, and now the whole thread is full of hypothetical people shitting on hypothetical floors. Sry. :(
posted by Nattie at 2:12 AM on April 28, 2011


Londonmark, yes, the comparison is false. That's what I'm arguing. If you look up in the thread, people are comparing porn to pooping on the floor. I'm saying that comparison doesn't work well. You seem to be arguing with me about what I am arguing against. Also, I am not talking about porn. I am talking about viewing porn in a library. Please look at the comments before mine.
posted by Knigel at 2:12 AM on April 28, 2011


Yes, we should also be allowed to take a shit on the library floor or in the street, because bowel movements are natural. If someone else doesn't want to see you take a shit, they just need to get over it, right?
There's a big difference between taking a dump and looking at pictures of people taking a dump on the internet. Not that I want to see people doing that either. But no one is saying people should be allowed to have sex in the libraries, or even masturbate there. Just that the internet shouldn't be censored for users who want uncensored access.

In addition, adding censorship filters can block legit content as well.
It's silicone enlarged crack queens being beaten and demeaned by men with digitally enhanced penises. It's youngish looking women in school girl outfits with ejaculate on their faces.
Digitally enhanced penises? Lol, okay… You sound like someone who's never seen actual porn. And anyway, the fact that some porn is like this doesn't mean all porn should be banned. For example, a married couple that does videos of themselves having sex with each other in their bedroom. It wouldn't make sense to ban that because the other videos are bad.
As BungaDunga said, the right to free speech doesn't give to the right to do whatever the hell that you want.
No... but it also does give you the right do whatever you want on your own property, and if libraries want to let people look at porn who are you to say they can't?
To me it's a no-brainer . Go do it in private. Keep it out of my everyday life.
These are obviously people who don't have internet connections at home.
What ? are they just not installing the filters correctly? Its really not that hard to filter out a lot fo the porn out there. certainly there will be tricky ways around it but it shouldn't be difficult to block most of it in a way that is not so easily subverted.

Sounds like their IT department is just shit.
The policy is they allow users over 17 to turn it off. Otherwise users under 17 would also be able to turn it off as well. Duh.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, just because people are watching porn at the library doesn't mean they are also jerking off at the library. I certainly don't think that should be legal and in general it's not.

Also I've heard of libraries that do have viewing rooms that are more private, or have partitions or whatever. But the fact that people might look at something makes other people uncomfortable doesn't mean those people who are uncomfortable have the right to tell other people what to do.
posted by delmoi at 2:15 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


But no one is saying people should be allowed to have sex in the libraries, or even masturbate there. Just that the internet shouldn't be censored for users who want uncensored access.

I'm really not sure I understand the distinction you think you are making. People aren't allowed to fuck in the library because other people shouldn't have to see it.
posted by londonmark at 2:17 AM on April 28, 2011


What?!? People shouldn't have to see it? Seeing sex is some kind of torture now? I think that the policy is there because people WANT to see it. Too many people. I think that it's like not being able to eat cookies in class unless you bring enough for everybody.
posted by Knigel at 2:20 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Easy solution: Porn libraries!
posted by Knigel at 2:21 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would so vote for porn libraries.
posted by londonmark at 2:22 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once voted in, I think future voter turnouts would drop to near nil.
posted by Knigel at 2:23 AM on April 28, 2011


Two computer rooms, one with voluntary porn filters and one without. Done.

In some ideal world, where libraries have the money to provide everything every one of their patrons might want, this isn't a bad idea. In our world, where many libraries struggle just to stay open this probably isn't going to happen. And why should your right to watch Nuts and Sluts take precedence over another patron's right use the computer for non-erotic activity?

I think pornfilters are mostly a waste of money and effort and where resources allow and mission dictates, I applaud libraries that can make materials that might be described as "erotica" available to their patrons, but I see no reason why every library must include "permit masturbatory activity" in their mission statement.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:25 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


A library should have the right to make and enforce reasonable rules like anywhere else. Don't run around squealing, don't talk loudly and disturb others, don't witter away on your stupid mobile phone like no-one else can hear you and don't watch porn on the computers. In trying to become more 'inclusive' libraries which relax these rules destroy the qualities which make them special and valuable to people and so erode public support for their funding. Libraries are not homeless shelters and they're not your bedroom either. There's a strong argument that they shouldn't have become glorified internet cafes with a few books dotted around for the old folks but that battle seems over.
posted by joannemullen at 2:29 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I try to avoid looking at other people's monitors, because it seems rude. I have spent literally hundreds of hours of my life over the past ten years in the stacks and sitting at terminals in university and public libraries, and I don't think I've ever been unwittingly exposed to porn. I do not think this is a coincidence.

Maybe those anti-glare/privacy screens that attach to the CRT actually work. Or maybe I'm just really good at not being a Nosy Nelly. (Although I read other people's books upside-down even when I am trying not to look, so - probably not so much.)
posted by gingerest at 2:45 AM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


My fear is that this will give those trying to de-fund libraries another talking point.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:20 AM on April 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm really not sure I understand the distinction you think you are making. People aren't allowed to fuck in the library because other people shouldn't have to see it.
I don't really get what point you're trying to make. There is a big difference between someone having sex in the middle of the room, or even a corner, and someone's computer screen. You don't have to look at a computer screen, and it's reasonable to not allow people to look at porn on computers that are out in the open. But why ban people from looking at porn on machines that have a reasonable amount of privacy as well.

The argument is just bizarre. Do you think that if one person looks at pornography in one area of the library, everyone in the library will be forced to see it, just as if they were fucking in the stacks? Seriously?

Or do you compulsively look over people's screens at the library and then get disgusted when you see porn, as opposed to their facebook photos? Maybe you should alter your behavior.
posted by delmoi at 3:21 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


In our world, where many libraries struggle just to stay open this probably isn't going to happen. And why should your right to watch Nuts and Sluts take precedence over another patron's right use the computer for non-erotic activity?
Duh, because the libraries don't want to install filters and prevent people from accessing stuff. That's why they have these polices. Do you think libraries are being forced to allow people to look at porn or something?

What's being debated here is the rights of libraries to allow porn if they want too.

No one is saying that people should be able to look at porn in a library if the library doesn't think it's appropriate. The question is why you feel you should have the right to set library policy. If the computer screens have a reasonable level of privacy for the computer screens, what's the problem, exactly?
posted by delmoi at 3:24 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


but I see no reason why every library must include "permit masturbatory activity" in their mission statement.
Are you incapable of watching porn without masturbating?
posted by delmoi at 3:25 AM on April 28, 2011


MetaFilter: bam, there it is.
posted by Splunge at 3:43 AM on April 28, 2011


Or do you compulsively look over people's screens at the library and then get disgusted when you see porn, as opposed to their facebook photos? Maybe you should alter your behavior.

Lol, did you really need to resort to personal attacks?

My point was that, of all the arguments you could make for prohibiting people from browsing internet porn in public, the most common seems to be about protecting innnocent bystanders from witnessing it too and being offended. This is essentially the same reasoning that underpins rules around public decency. Yes, you can argue that computers are more discreet than live acts, but that doesn't automatically negate the concern.

Of course, if we are simply being prudish about people consuming porn in public, that's a very different issue.
posted by londonmark at 3:46 AM on April 28, 2011


Huh. This seems somewhat bizarre. I find it surprising that a library would adopt a position that seems to pretty much make it an utterly inappropriate place for kids. I sure spent a lot of time in the library when I was a kid, but maybe that's an outmoded concept now? Do kids no longer use public libraries?
posted by taz at 3:56 AM on April 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


If the computer screens have a reasonable level of privacy for the computer screens, what's the problem, exactly?

That's a pretty massive "if" right there. Can't speak to where you live, but in my town, library computers are out in the open in long rows, no privacy at all, visible from pretty much the whole room (including the kid's section).
posted by jbickers at 4:10 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. This seems somewhat bizarre. I find it surprising that a library would adopt a position that seems to pretty much make it an utterly inappropriate place for kids.
Well, the point of the library, I guess, is to provide access to information for the public at large, not just kids. Most of the people who browse the web at the library aren't people who are going to have internet connections at home, so censoring the web would be limiting the information that's available to them. (Especially since web censors don't work all that well, lots of information would be banned. imgur.com, for example is used everywhere and allows pornographic content)

I know when I was a kid my library had a copy of Maddona's Sex book that was so controversial at the time, but it was always checked out and had like a waiting list of 80 people or whatever.

But generally I would imagine that if a library has a policy like this the computers are more private or people aren't allowed to look at porn in the general area or wahtever.
posted by delmoi at 4:14 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also I have to say I'm stunned that so many people weren't aware that many libraries allowed people to surf the web uncensored.
posted by delmoi at 4:17 AM on April 28, 2011


MetaFilter: Every Does It.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:23 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what is awesome about watching porn in the library? Contiuing to watch it as the librarian brings a school group through for a tour. The kids are nice and quiet and totally digging the tour, so it's educational (since we all have sex) for them to see my porn. Totally awesome. And its not like the library has to pay for the access, or cleaning the jizz, or unfucking a virus laden PC. Its not like my need for porn and insistence on watching it in public spaces creates a hostile environment for anyone else, since fucking is so educational.

You know what's awesome about reading porn in a library? Nothing, since it's just reading a book like anyone else.

(note: I am a librarian, I copped the pornhound watching it in front of a school group and I reserve the right to totally ignore anyone who has decided libraries are 'internet cafes with a few books' since my collection development budget and ebook collection beg to disagree)
posted by geek anachronism at 4:31 AM on April 28, 2011 [17 favorites]


I watch porn so I can learn more about creating recession proof job opportunities. If only I can make myself 19, female and conventionally attractive, I will be able to work forever.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:31 AM on April 28, 2011


Here's the funny thing about porn: even the most grotesque stuff, unless it's actually illegal, it was performed by two (or more) consenting adults. It's all fake, it's all acting! It may squick me out, but it's not nearly as disturbing as the following:

-Slaughterhouse footage
-War footage
-Surgery footage

I am serious here, I've watched documentaries on body modification, and the only parts that grossed me out were the breast implant segment, because of the surgery being shown.

If porn's not your cup of tea, I'm sorry, but there's a lot of stuff that's objectively worse than pornography, and it's really just certain folks' personal morality that's coloring this controversy. We live in a nation in which graphic violence is garnered with PG-13 ratings, while a topless woman means an automatic R rating. Torture porn* can qualify as R, but sexual acts that occur in any healthy, happy, functional household mean NC-17 or unrated, unless nothing at all is shown.

No one's saying you have to support a patron's decision to view porn, but I like the notion that censorship's not being given a foothold by way of over-delicate sensibilities.

*The Passion of the Christ
posted by explosion at 4:31 AM on April 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


I kind of wish this hadn't been posted at a time when most of the MeFibrarians were in bed. I'm not the best person to respond on their behalf, since I don't have to deal with it where I work, but I'll give it a shot.

Look, we're not any more thrilled about people watching porn in the library than you are, but our choices on this issue really suck. Librarians exist to facilitate access to information. We hate censorship. If there were a hypothetical filter that could block access to all and only "porn" we could probably live with it (although I should point out that there are plenty of people in the profession that feel like that would still be a violation of our ethics).

The problem is that it's impossible to agree on a definition of "porn" and that filters do an unbelievably crappy job of filtering it. They seem to be programmed by people who think that information about birth control and homosexuality is the same as a gangbang video. The library is last refuge for so many teens who aren't getting the information they desperately need from their families or their schools, and it breaks my heart to think that they're going to come looking for it, and find it blocked by a filter.

Pervs, I feel for you if you can't afford the internet at home, but please don't jerk off in the library. You're really fucking it up for the rest of us.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:34 AM on April 28, 2011 [20 favorites]


Only dirty, nasty people like to have sex, or look at people having sex, or think about sex!

Respectfully, that's a straw man.


Q: You like sex pictures? You are a straw man who likes the sex picture downloading they are currently engaged in?
A: Yes! I am! I like sex pictures!
Q: You like sex pictures! In fact, you are a straw man who likes downloading sex pictures as much as a library patron likes downloading sex pictures!
A: YES I LIKE DOWNLOADING SEXY SEX PICTURES AS IF IT REQUIRED A LIBRARY CARD!! TELL ME MORE ABOUT IT
Q: YOU ENJOY THIS PICTURE DOWNLOADING YOU SEXY SEX STRAW MAN etc.

cough
posted by soma lkzx at 4:49 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


In my bookstore we have plenty of written erotica and photo books that could be considered artsy porn. We've also had our share of public jerking off, too, but not in those sections. Usually down in the basement near science and engineering.
posted by jonmc at 4:56 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god I had a lot of problems with this article.

1) New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library are completely separate entities. Different policies, different directors, incompatible library cards. I have no idea what NYPL's policy on porn may be. It's true that BPL's position is that we offer adults, when the sign in to the computer, the option to filter or not filter their internet.

2) Computers at BPL have screen filters on them so that you have to be standing pretty much directly behind the screen to see anything. This is a useful privacy thing for things like online banking too, mind you. Generally, the mere presence of people looking at porn doesn't create a creepy atmosphere for the patrons or the librarians, because it's really not in your face.

3) Needless to say, "enjoying" porn is very much against library policy, and patrons can be asked to stop if there are small kids around. In most branches the childrens' area is substantially separated from the adults' area. (Though you've always got parents hanging out on their computers with their toddlers or infants, too.)

There is a patron at a local branch who looks at a fair amount of porn. I know because one time he asked me for some technical assistance and I saw the words "lolicon hentai" on the search screen (not any actual lolicon hentai images...) He is... completely nondisruptive, and frankly a lot less creepy than some patrons I've dealt with.

So, I'm thinking, if patrons aren't being creepy or disruptive, and if I don't have to see it, and other patrons don't have to see it... why would we need to tell people what legal material they can and can't look at? (I say legal because the filters do block child porn.) It's not as if the library computers are purely for intellectual edification.

And augh, I hate that this has blown up into a THING in a year when, for the fourth year in a row, I'm in danger of losing my job, we're so understaffed, we have very little money for security guards, and ... OMG PORN AT THE LIBRARY OMG.

(Extraneous Jessamyn anecdote: Jessamyn came to my library school to talk about technology issues in libraries. Her take on it was that sometimes she wanted to tell the kids, "There is SO much better porn out there." You're awesome, Jessamyn.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:00 AM on April 28, 2011 [27 favorites]


People who read Garfield aren't looking to expand their minds either, but that doesn't make it right to exclude from libraries.

However, rather than excluding content why not exclude people who are disturbing other patrons?

"Sir, your odor is overwhelming us. Perhaps you should move to another area or come back when the library isn't so full."

"Ma'am, your persistent and incredibly loud cough is causing us distress. Should you be home in bed?"

"Sir, there have been some complaints about the video you are watching in the children's room. Perhaps you should do it more privately."
posted by DU at 5:01 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look, maybe I can convince some of you anti-sex crusaders with a simple example. I get on the subway with my niece and sit down across from this fellow in a trenchcoat. As we get under way, he whips it out and starts jackin' it in front of both of us. Offensive? No! Perfectly natural! Masturbation is perfectly natural! Besides, if we don't want to see it, we don't have to look at it. We have 360 degrees of view at our disposal, so we can choose to move our gaze from his leering grin to the front of the car, say. And the same is true of watching porn in public libraries. You don't want your third grade class to see a midget taking a shit on a paraplegic woman's chest, get 'em to look somewhere else. Fuckin' prudes.
posted by indubitable at 5:07 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


They do make computers with the monitors in pits and with filters so that other people walking by can't see it unless they lean over the desk. They have them at a library near me.

It's hardly ergonomic since you're hunched over to see the screen, but libraries offer them for people doing things they wouldn't want others to see, like say bank account information. It's not meant for porn, but I assume it could work.

I feel like pornography itself doesn't have much of a place in a library, but the problem is that there is a lot of media worth considering that has elements of porn, including life-saving sex ed and cancer self-test videos. Or, of course, there's art that isn't really pornographic, but moral crusaders will argue is pornographic because it has a penis or a breast in it somewhere.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:32 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what's happening here, but I have an overwhelming urge to shit on a scarecrow at the library.
posted by dr_dank at 5:34 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


or unfucking a virus laden PC.
If a PC is susceptible to viruses (i.e. by running out of date browsers/acrobat/flash), it will get them whether or not you watch porn. If it's not, it won't. PC spyware writers don't care about morality.

Also, as I said no one is talking about letting people masturbate in the library. WTF people?
As we get under way, he whips it out and starts jackin' it in front of both of us. Offensive? No! Perfectly natural! Masturbation is perfectly natural! Besides, if we don't want to see it, we don't have to look at it.
Again, no one is saying people should be allowed to jerk off in the library. If you can't make your point without ridiculous hyperbole, you probably don't have one.
posted by delmoi at 5:38 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Man, I wish we used the phrase "Wicker Man" instead of "Straw Man," so that then I could say "The whacker man on the train is not the issue here." Because that would be a passable pun by my low standards.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:41 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you can't make your point without ridiculous hyperbole, you probably don't have one.

I don't see that point as being hyperbolic at all. People, including the sort of inconsiderate person who watches porn at the library, primarily watch porn to jerk off. I'm all in favor of letting people watch porn at the library if they behave like they're admiring works of art at the Met, but lets be realistic for a moment. As others have said, the problem is less on-screen than off.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:43 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you can't make your point without ridiculous hyperbole, you probably don't have one.

ditto if you can't make it without having to repeat it like eight times, or without decorating it with insults.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 5:43 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are there people who look at porn for non-masturbatory purposes? Other than those mythical researchers who don't have access to a home or university machine, I mean.
posted by pracowity at 5:46 AM on April 28, 2011


I'm as bothered as anyone about situations where I can look over and see Hypothetical Patron's porn. I've been harassed at the library. I've had situations where I was afraid I was going to be stalked. And, to tell you the truth, I don't know why people watch porn if they're not going to be able to enjoy it then and there. But this policy has been in place for years, and... frankly, I think it kind of works out.

It's a policy that only works out because BPL has, generally, good security, good computer software to keep adults on the adult computers and children on the children's computers, and privacy screens, and small numbers of computers that are in a clear line of sight from the reference desk, but it works out.

Not intended to represent the opinions of my employers, etc etc etc.
posted by Jeanne at 6:02 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, I'm thinking, if patrons aren't being creepy or disruptive, and if I don't have to see it, and other patrons don't have to see it... why would we need to tell people what legal material they can and can't look at?

This makes total sense to me, and feels humane. I've never spotted anyone looking at porn at my local library, though I'm sure it happens. What I do see is a room full of people (and with a long waiting list most of the time) for whom this is their only computer access. If there are anti-glare screens and, like Jeanne said, they aren't being creepy or disruptive, what is the harm?

Are there people who look at porn for non-masturbatory purposes? Other than those mythical researchers who don't have access to a home or university machine, I mean.

I guess it's probably always sexual, but yes, it is normal and common to look at porn without jerking it at that moment.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


And augh, I hate that this has blown up into a THING in a year when, for the fourth year in a row, I'm in danger of losing my job, we're so understaffed, we have very little money for security guards, and ... OMG PORN AT THE LIBRARY OMG.

Really, a hundred times this. Public libraries are being closed at a rate of knots around my neighborhood. I don't want people looking at porn in public spaces used by children. If someone does so in a way that ruins the experience for others, they should be warned, then asked to leave, and eventually excluded from the library. However, what I'm seeing here is another thing which is going to be used to close down libraries, because they can't afford the changes required to make the library both free to and free from to an acceptable level.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:06 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


digitally enhanced penises.

What????
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2011


I miss the days where you could sit in a bar and smoke a full pack of Chesterfields whilst enjoying your porn. Also you could smack other people's kids, which as it happens are precisely the kids that need smacking.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:10 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


digitally enhanced penises.

What????


Rule 34.
posted by fuq at 6:13 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


i digitally enhance mine at least once a day!

i think libraries should allow porn on computers, but for the protection of other patrons, every time porn is viewed, the computer should announce, in the voice of wilford brimley, "please maintain a distance of at least ten feet while i look at pictures of hot, sweaty men."
posted by fallacy of the beard at 6:14 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Related article on viewing porn in public:

"But the increasing popularity of laptops and handheld devices, and the prevalence of wireless Internet access, means there's a greater chance of becoming a bystander to a complete stranger's viewing proclivities. Like being exposed to the cigarette smoke of a nicotine addict on the street, people are inhaling secondhand smut. "

Secondhand porn kills....my appetite!
posted by FJT at 6:27 AM on April 28, 2011


What's being debated here is the rights of libraries to allow porn if they want too.

The deathandtaxes story is a piece of shit and I can't see that anything's really being debated here, but sure, I'll agree with you here: in principle, if some library, somewhere, decides they can serve their community best by providing Wide Open Assbangers to their patrons, I don't really care. Here, I'll repeat my comment from the last time the topic of libraries came up. Hell, I guess a library has the right to provide strip shows to their patrons. (Here, I'll repeat my comment about "rights.")

Sure, let's hear it for rights! Now, whether providing porn, or allowing patrons to provide themselves with porn at a particular library is the best use of the library's resources, or it's staff's time, or the best way to make it a useful, congenial place for the greatest number of people, is another question entirely, one you seem pretty unwilling to consider.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:29 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aww, man. Now I guess porn in the woods has to change his/her username to porn in the library.
posted by Eideteker at 6:38 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If a library can't reliably keep the actual high school cheerleaders and babysitters from accidentally (or intentionally, but below the age of consent) seeing what's on the screens of the guys browsing Brazilian Whacks and fumbling for things in their pockets, isn't it exposing itself to opening itself to risking legal trouble? How do libraries make sure Junior and Missy don't shoulder surf Quimflicker's Quarterly?
posted by pracowity at 6:50 AM on April 28, 2011


Is this something I'd need a libido to understand?
posted by Spatch at 6:51 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some dude quietly watching porn would bug me way less than the people who've decided the local library is where they should go to tutor their students at full voice, or the folks who let their toddlers run amok and don't teach them that libraries are quiet places....or, at least they used to be.

But if the patron is watching porn and talking at full voice on his cell phone or to a buddy close by, THEN I would glare at him. Hard. HARD EVIL GLARE GLARE GLARE.
posted by Salmonberry at 6:53 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Secondhand porn kills....my appetite!

there's nothing wrong with encouraging others to take pride in publicly exercising their rights. a guy next to me in calculus was constantly into porn on his laptop (i'll never get the fascination with seeing 100-foot-tall women like mounting the tip of the empire state building, but whatever). i thought i was the only one who noticed (and frankly, i was irritated, as it was always women, or women-on-women...never men), til one day this chick yelled out behind us, "wow, that guy's cock is huge!" the poor dude then slammed his laptop shut without removing the ipod nano next to his trackpad, and the rest of the semester i had to watch him do calculus on a cracked and ill-colored screen.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 6:55 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


XXX Barely Legal Teens Get Gangbanged Up The Butthole

That was a good one, but most critics agree that the definitive work in the series is XXX Barely Legal Teens Get Gangbanged Up The Butthole III.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:57 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Poet_Lariat writes "men with digitally enhanced penises."

Seriously? With the exception of pretty niche products (that Star Trek Parody for example) I don't recall this being an issue. If it is I think I have a new entry for my Jobs I Hope Never To Have List : Penis Enhancer. I think I'll slot it in under Hot Tar Roofer.
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 AM on April 28, 2011


I don't see that point as being hyperbolic at all. People, including the sort of inconsiderate person who watches porn at the library, primarily watch porn to jerk off.
Or they watch it at the library and then go home to jerk off. Again, if you want to ban jerking off at the library, do that. If all you want is to make jerking off at the library against the rules (as it should be) then all you have to do is make it against the rules by itself. There's no need to make other rules as well. Especially since porn filters wouldn't stop people hell bent on jerking off at the library from doing so.
but sure, I'll agree with you here: in principle, if some library, somewhere, decides they can serve their community best by providing Wide Open Assbangers to their patrons, -- octobersurprise
This is exactly the situation under discussion.
Sure, let's hear it for rights! Now, whether providing porn, or allowing patrons to provide themselves with porn at a particular library is the best use of the library's resources, or it's staff's time -- octobersurprise
I'm sure the library would be able to make that decision for themselves, and they have. They've decided to allow porn. So what's the problem you have exactly? As to whether or not I would "consider" an argument no one has made, I'm not sure why I would. All the comments seem to be saying "Eww, porn is gross!" and that's about it.

The other argument is about whether or not it's possible for a library to be set up so that people can't see what's on the screen, and many people apparently can't even imagine such a scenario.

I think that if a library decided it didn't think allowing porn was a good idea, that would be fine. On the other hand if it did, that would also be fine. Other people are saying no, that would not be fine and the library should definitely not be allowed to allow it.
posted by delmoi at 7:09 AM on April 28, 2011


I think I'll slot it in under Hot Tar Roofer.

oddly enough, i know a hot tar roofer who would let you.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 7:10 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


there's a time and place for porn, but it ain't in the library.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:16 AM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


In trying to become more 'inclusive' libraries which relax these rules destroy the qualities which make them special and valuable to people and so erode public support for their funding.

Oh give me a break. Inclusivity is not the reason that people don't want to pay taxes for public libraries. People don't want to pay taxes for public libraries because EVERYTHING'S ON THE INTERNETS NOW and BOOKS ARE OLD AND DUSTY and YUCK HOMELESS PEOPLE and LIBERRIES ARE PART OF THE SOCIALIST AGENDA. Entirely different kettle of fish.
posted by blucevalo at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The NYP reporter approached an ”elderly porn watcher” at the Brooklyn Library who was watching a threesome, but failed to get a comment. As anyone would do, the old guy grumbled “Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you,” and walked away.

You jackin' it?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:21 AM on April 28, 2011


There is no "reason" they shouldn't, other than your own personal sense of decency.

Libraries are public places with a specific public purpose: at least around here, you're not allowed to use your cell phone in the library, you're not allowed to run around and play tag, you're not allowed to shout across the room to your friend to see if he wants to catch a movie after you're done studying.

None of those things are morally bad, as standalone actions, but contextually they're inappropriate. Plopping down to watch some porn in the library falls into roughly the same category. It's all well and good to say, "It's just fucking!" but you can't fuck your girlfriend in the library, either.
posted by verb at 7:34 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's a time and place for porn, but it ain't in the library.

Unless it's a sexy library.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:37 AM on April 28, 2011


"It's just fucking!" but you can't fuck your girlfriend in the library, either.

When was the last time you were on a college campus?

I know, not the same as "public library." Still .....
posted by blucevalo at 7:38 AM on April 28, 2011


but you can't fuck your girlfriend in the library, either.

Not if you don't have the key.

posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:39 AM on April 28, 2011


Not only was I sleeping when this was posted, I'm at a library conference right now, so I apologize for being brief. I would like to note that the two articles that I read basically took a library statement “Customers can watch whatever they want on the computer.” and turned it into this tawdy piece of bullshit. And the vigilante "Aha!" article the Post wrote isn't worth a response.

Let me be clear: the library said that they don't censor what you watch on the computers in response to a journalist hassling them about it (not the usual "patron complains because kid is exposed to raunchy porn on public computer" though I'm sure you can argue that journalists are patrons) and you get this concern troll piece that basically chastises libraries for sticking up for your first amendment rights.

Masturbating in the library is against the rules. Libraries have separate computers for children in larger library systems [almost always] that have filters for children. The library's statement is, I am certain part of a very nuanced policy about how they handle people who are creating a problem in the library but their first line response is going to be “Customers can watch whatever they want on the computer.” Shame on these reporters for turning this into some sensational sleaze piece at exactly the time when US libraries are in huge trouble. Most of the libraries that I am personally familiar with in my neck of the woods have a sort of "Be cool" policy which is that if you are at a computer that is public-facing, please try to look at stuff that wouldn't get people's parents mad at you. We have lawsuits about that stuff too. We have lawsuits by staff who have to interact with porn watching computer users [let me tell you, that is not a fun job]. Being a public insitution in a country that has an enshrined freedom of speech is a tough job, but we do our best.

If anyone wants to talk at length about what an onerous piece of legislation the Children's Internet Protection Act is--a law that basically requires libraries receiving federal money to filter public omcputers, a law that covers many many computers in the US and keeps you from looking up information on breast cancer or teen sex advice in addition to hard core pornography , if it even works on hard core pornography which it often doesn't--I'll be happy to talk about it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on April 28, 2011 [33 favorites]


What sort of legal trouble can libraries and their employees get into if an underage patron sees what's on the screen of a porn browser? What's the procedure when "Be cool" doesn't work?
posted by pracowity at 8:05 AM on April 28, 2011


I spent a lot of time at the library as a kid. I started reading at a young age, and for me the library was a refuge and a sanctuary and this amazing place full of knowledge and secrets and adventures.

But my library was actually really restrictive, too. I remember chafing at the bit because the library was in sections and I wanted to be able to read books that weren't in the "children's" section. And once, when I checked out Watership Down, the librarian actually called my Mother to say she didn't feel it was appropriate. Watership Down! WTF?

So, anyway, I'm a Mom now, and you might think I'm bringing this up, my childhood library days, to make the argument that, "Porn is inappropriate! Think of the kids! What if they see it?!"

But I'm not.

When I was a kid, like I said, I spent a lot of time in the library. I rode my bike, by myself, to get there, often. I had a lot of freedom.

Today, where I live, and I don't think it is much different in a lot of communities with families, kids are more sheltered in where they go and what they do on their own than they were then. Parents drive them more, they don't let them wander as far afield, and small children have supervised "playdates". I stil go to the library a lot, and If you haven't been to one lately, I can tell you that rarely have I seen unattended kids there younger than middle school.

Our local libraries each have a separate children's room, because kids tend to be a little louder and rowdier even with their parents present (as someone who was taught to be quiet in libraries from day one, and had it enforced by strict librarians, I admit the noise level bothers me). They have a couple computers in the kids' area, but they are out in the open, right by where the librarians also have a desk.

So the likelihood of anyone seeing porn in our libraries is limited to the people who use the computers located outside the kids' area. Those computers are on the other side of the library, pretty much back in the corner.

So even the possibility of kids catching a glimpse of porn on a library computer seems remote. In my opinion, the argument against adult content in libraries because kids might just see it comes mainly from parents who don't want to be put in the position of having to explain uncomfortable things like OMGSEX to their kids in the first place. And I'm very pro sex-education, and think that parents should be talking to their kids about sex.

As far as adults unwittingly being exposed to disturbing material in the library...well, I personally wouldn't care to catch a glimpse of, say, bukkake on someone's computer screen while I was visiting the library, either. It's not my thing. But, as I've said, it's really easy to avoid that ever happening.

The situation isn't comparable AT ALL to someone, say, exposing himself to me on the subway. I'd have to make an effort to be exposed to porn, peeking around the sides of cubicles at someone else's computer screen (which, like reading a book over someone's shoulder, I feel is an invasion of THEIR privacy). Why would I go around spying on other patrons? Especially if I were someone who had obvious trigger issues? Common sense would tell you that's not a good idea.

So I'm firmly on the side of letting people access what they want on the web in libraries, provided it doesn't break existing laws. It's not the job of librarians to police content.

Even if some kid wants to read Watership Down.
posted by misha at 8:14 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that depends on the state's laws about pornography and obscenity and all the rest. There have been lawsuits about that sort of thing in the past. Usually what happens is libraries then implement some sort of filtering or some sort of screen filters [those polarizing things where you can't see the screen unless you're right next to it] and sometimes someone gets fired. Other times there are big meetings about it and the library reinforces their policies and explains to parents that the entire world isn't a "safe space" and that incidental exposure to pornography is actually not damaging to people. Which is at the root of this issue. People seem to think that seeing someone having sex on a screen, in an incidental way, is damaging.

And at some level that's the elephant in the room. If a kid is really walking by someone's screen and sees something raunchy, that's annoying and it might shake the kid up but available research says that kids basically ignore the stuff that they don't understand and move on. It's teens who are often "Hey what's that?" and then they peek and then the parent sees them peeking and flips out. And in either case the parent may have to have an awkward conversation with a kid that they were saving til later, or have to explain things that go against their personal values system [for a lot of people, the moral panic is about homosexuality. Parents who haven't told their children about gay people get really mad when the kid reads a book about gay penguins, and/or sees men kissing on a library screen - this is offensive to me personally] and while, hey, life is complicated I think it's one of the things that comes from having a (slightly) free society.

And we really have to think, as a society, why seeing porn is for some reason verboten and OMG and seeing, say, charred dead babies on a screen or other things that a lot of us might consider difficult to look at it is just not included here. Or there are libraries who have setups where the monitor is sunken into a desk situation where literally no one can see the screen expect the patron and people still don't want people looking at porn in the library because ... I don't know, they might be aroused? But you're allowed to read The Joy of Sex in a public library.

Our culture is having this battlezone situation about sexuality that is appalling. If you can buy porn in a 7/11 [and you can in some states and not in others], looking at it on a screen in a public library isn't that different. And I have to say, I guess, that I'm not saying "Hey porn-watchers, please come to the library!" because obviously there are some issues there, social norms, comfort, that sort of thing. But at some level you have to draw a line, a legal line. And we're public, which is everyone. Which means we have to have these difficult conversations. What is it that we're really afraid of? Tax dollars going to broadband access for porn? Kids seeing people having sex on a screen? Child porn spreading rampantly because of library access to the internet? An erosion of traditional values? Call it what it is, but don't blame the library because we're trying to uphold the values that the country supposedly stands for. It's difficult work.
posted by jessamyn at 8:19 AM on April 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


Freedom of speech guarantees that people can express whatever ideas they want to express. It doesn't obligate anyone to provide a platform for the distribution of those ideas. This is a really common (and really facile) misunderstanding about freedom of speech.

I can't compel a newspaper to print my ideas, or a television station to broadcast them, or a webhost to host them, or a library (public or private) to provide access to them.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:20 AM on April 28, 2011


So why do we hide it, stigmatize it, culturally deride the silliness that is "porn?"

no religion could exist without the guilt they cull from the natural expression of sexuality. They've always known it's impossible to control so they offer you absolution for a tithe. Whoever created that word had a hell of a sense of humor.
posted by any major dude at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2011


How do privately owned public places that offer WiFi -- you know, Starbucks -- deal with this?

Or do the demographics make it a non-issue?
posted by notyou at 8:25 AM on April 28, 2011


They've decided to allow porn. So what's the problem you have exactly?

Well, as you've pointed out, they have the right to determine how best to serve their own patrons, so you needn't fear that I'll rush to New York and yank their computer plugs from the walls.

But I think it's a bad idea, or rather, maybe, a pointless idea, for most of the reasons that Nattie outlines, in addition to it being a poor use of library resources. An inadequate number of public terminals is characteristic of (especially) public libraries. So even if we assume that everyone coming to the library to watch porn will be completely non-disruptive to patrons who don't wish to share the watcher's enthusiasms, (not an assumption to be counted on, IME) each one is depriving another patron (who also may not own a computer) of the opportunity to look for a job, or check email, or do homework, or keep up with news. At this point, permitting patrons to watch porn as a general rule (rather than as something that might, sometimes, happen) just becomes more trouble than it's worth and really requires a defense of porn as a positive good, something a library should try to provide to it's patrons, if you think it should be permitted (an argument I don't see anyone making here).
posted by octobersurprise at 8:27 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Children's Internet Protection Act

Incidentally, the acronym "CIPA" is a really rude word in Polish - it's the "C word".
posted by Meatbomb at 8:27 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd have to make an effort to be exposed to porn, peeking around the sides of cubicles at someone else's computer screen (which, like reading a book over someone's shoulder, I feel is an invasion of THEIR privacy).

I mostly agree with you, but the reality is that being exposed to porn at a library doesn't often take a lot of effort. Some libraries don't have the protective cubicles that you're talking about (maybe some can't afford them), and pretty much anyone walking by can see what someone is looking at -- unless the idea is that you keep your face forward at all times (not very realistic) and force yourself never to look at what's on anyone's screens as you pass a bank of monitors in what is frequently a very public area.

So, the argument that you have to go out of your way or be in the realm of snooping to see someone looking at porn at a public library (or any other library with terminals that are unfiltered, for that matter) is not always entirely accurate. Sometimes, maybe -- but not always.

That said, I completely agree that the porn-in-the-library concern is more often than not a stalking horse for one of two things: (1) OMG libraries should be defunded and this is one convenient piece of evidence in the dossier to make sure that happens, fast; and (2) OMG porn (and, by extension, sex in general) is inherently nasty and bad and wrong and even more so in public and let's do something about those dirty filthy creeps -- when the reality is that a good percentage of the ones who are screaming the loudest about the horrific moral cataclysm of porn are the ones who are sure as hell downloading the bejesus out of it at home.
posted by blucevalo at 8:30 AM on April 28, 2011


OMG porn (and, by extension, sex in general) is inherently nasty and bad and wrong...

i.e., fun.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:31 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


no religion could exist without the guilt they cull from the natural expression of sexuality. They've always known it's impossible to control so they offer you absolution for a tithe. Whoever created that word had a hell of a sense of humor.

Or, in the case of a good friend of mine, she was repeatedly sexually abused for the first decade and a half of her life and has spend the decades since then methodically working through a lot of fucked up baggage. She's perfectly willing to accept that porn isn't fundamentally a moral issue, but damned if she didn't have to work through some complex issues when she goes to dig up some information about edwardian literature or local history and ends up sitting next to someone who's discreetly (or not so discreetly) powering through some porn.

I totally get the idea that there are people who don't have access to any other computer, barring them from private access to free porn, but I'm just left scratching my head at the fact that discussions about sexual harassment, unfriendly environments, and so on seem to fly out the window when the space is public.

Sometimes, concern about this stuff isn't about "The Children" and it isn't about "OMGZ SEX BAD."
posted by verb at 8:42 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Witnessing sexualized acts is similar -- except worse in a lot of ways for people who've been victims of sexual assault. Given what a large portion of the population that includes, I'm not prepared to just be "oh get the fuck over it" about it. Lots of things can traumatize people, but both sex and violence have stronger sensations/feelings attached to them than most other human activities, which is why we're more sensitive to letting people choose what they see. We warn for those things in movies because they trigger unwanted emotional responses in people, and you don't have to think sex is dirty to have that response triggered.

Question: Do you think people shouldn't be allowed to graphically discuss rape in public?
posted by p3on at 8:50 AM on April 28, 2011


verb: “Or, in the case of a good friend of mine, she was repeatedly sexually abused for the first decade and a half of her life and has spend the decades since then methodically working through a lot of fucked up baggage. She's perfectly willing to accept that porn isn't fundamentally a moral issue, but damned if she didn't have to work through some complex issues when she goes to dig up some information about edwardian literature or local history and ends up sitting next to someone who's discreetly (or not so discreetly) powering through some porn. I totally get the idea that there are people who don't have access to any other computer, barring them from private access to free porn, but I'm just left scratching my head at the fact that discussions about sexual harassment, unfriendly environments, and so on seem to fly out the window when the space is public.”

Well, the nice thing is that there's totally an easy solution to this. As jessamyn says, there are libraries now that have screens of various kinds set up so that no one – really, no one – besides the patron sitting there in front of the computer can see what's on the screen.

So, in a snap, the concern you have – that people find themselves exposed to things they'd rather not be exposed to – is gone. And this becomes a non-issue. Right?
posted by koeselitz at 8:50 AM on April 28, 2011


It's really hard to police computer usage.

At Previous Library, we ended up banning MySpace (this was at the height of MySpace's popularity) due to some factors I don't want to get into. Not my decision. Instantly, half of my job became policing people's computers for getting onto MySpace through proxy servers. It was bad. It ended up making my relationships with patrons, especially teens, contentious and hostile. And if you have a rule you don't enforce, then everyone knows they can get around the rule by going to X branch, and you end up attracting all kinds of rowdy and disruptive people. (This is not theoretical. This is what happened.) You can't turn someone determined around to thinking, "Okay, I won't do this." They'll just spend increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy figuring out how not to get caught, and you'll spend increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy figuring out how to catch them.

It's even harder to make a rule that your computer usage has to be somehow meritorious enough. Filter porn, okay; what do you do about flash games, what do you do about YouTube, what do you do about blogs? You can set up computers that have no internet access, or internet access to only library databases, and that works fine, but if your standard for disallowing porn is that there are people who need to use the computers for real work, I don't think you can be inconsistent about that.
posted by Jeanne at 8:55 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, concern about this stuff isn't about "The Children" and it isn't about "OMGZ SEX BAD."

Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it is. In the case of politicians trying to legislate morality and to pander for cash and votes, it usually is.
posted by blucevalo at 8:56 AM on April 28, 2011


It's not the kids, it's the parents who freak out at the possibility of their kids seeing raunch stuff. Then they get all 'OMG MORAL PANIC!,' turn into single issue family values voters and fuck things up for everyone.

This stuff seems like it's very dangerous to libraries, and it's a terrible time for mounting a vigorous defense of people's right to get their rocks off in publicly funded institutions. IMHO if a person walking by can see porn on your screen, you should get fined a few hundred bucks and banned from the library. Send undercover cops in for routine sweeps and put a few faces in the newspaper and this will go away in a heartbeat.
posted by mullingitover at 8:57 AM on April 28, 2011


You don't think that idly putting pornwatchers' faces in a newspaper is another way to possibly "fuck things up for everyone"?
posted by blucevalo at 9:00 AM on April 28, 2011


octobersurprise: “At this point, permitting patrons to watch porn as a general rule (rather than as something that might, sometimes, happen) just becomes more trouble than it's worth and really requires a defense of porn as a positive good, something a library should try to provide to it's patrons, if you think it should be permitted (an argument I don't see anyone making here).”

No, it requires a defense of providing any and all information as a positive good – precisely because the definition of "pornography" is difficult and shifting, and it's not an easy distinction to make. If libraries go down the road of saying: "this information is worth sharing with patrons; that information is bad, and not worth sharing," they quickly find themselves making all kinds of distinctions that become uncomfortable very quickly. Great! says a group of parents – we disallow porn. That means my children can browse anything and everything in the library without risk of seeing some nudity, right? And this sex education stuff, that's something parents should control, so that's out, too, right? It leads us to a situation where, to accord with our own principles, we pretty much have to remove everything with nudity, or any depiction of sex. And if we do that, we should probably remove violent stuff, too. And pretty soon the library is making all kinds of moral distinctions that are difficult and uncomfortable to make.

So the reality is that permitting people to access any information is easier and makes a lot more sense than anything else; because anything else means we suddenly need to make a whole lot of moral decisions for other people.

And at the end of the day, ironically, it's the kids who lose out. Because it's the kids who get to grow up without knowing a damned thing about their own sexuality, because they're forbidden from looking up the word "penis" on Wikipedia.
posted by koeselitz at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Putting "faces in the newspaper" seems to repressive to me. It kind of convicts the person in public before they get a fair shake in court.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:02 AM on April 28, 2011


Well, the nice thing is that there's totally an easy solution to this. As jessamyn says, there are libraries now that have screens of various kinds set up so that no one – really, no one – besides the patron sitting there in front of the computer can see what's on the screen.

If the libraries have those setups, sure. That's a great solution. None of the libraries here do, of course, but given the generous funding they receive I'm sure it's at the top of their to-do list.


So, in a snap, the concern you have – that people find themselves exposed to things they'd rather not be exposed to – is gone. And this becomes a non-issue. Right?

I'm just a little confused -- and maybe a bit fascinated -- that the issue of sexual abuse, triggering, and so on become "Oh, boo-hoo, whiny!" when they occur at a library.
posted by verb at 9:03 AM on April 28, 2011


mullingitover: “This stuff seems like it's very dangerous to libraries, and it's a terrible time for mounting a vigorous defense of people's right to get their rocks off in publicly funded institutions. IMHO if a person walking by can see porn on your screen, you should get fined a few hundred bucks and banned from the library. Send undercover cops in for routine sweeps and put a few faces in the newspaper and this will go away in a heartbeat.”

Yeah, this would work nicely. Another idea I have is that we should revive that whole cut-off-your-hand-if-you-steal thing. Stealing would disappear overnight, I'm telling you.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on April 28, 2011


koeselitz: "Yeah, this would work nicely. Another idea I have is that we should revive that whole cut-off-your-hand-if-you-steal thing. Stealing would disappear overnight, I'm telling you."

Hello there, kindred spirit! After getting my fourth bike stolen I am fully on board with this plan.
posted by mullingitover at 9:08 AM on April 28, 2011


I'm just a little confused -- and maybe a bit fascinated -- that the issue of sexual abuse, triggering, and so on become "Oh, boo-hoo, whiny!" when they occur at a library.

I'm just a little confused that the fact that I was abused as a child or teen (which I was), whether physically, verbally, sexually, or otherwise, should be the occasion for me to insist on the policing of the morality of users of public resources.
posted by blucevalo at 9:09 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just a little confused that the fact that I was abused as a child or teen (which I was), whether physically, verbally, sexually, or otherwise, should be the occasion for me to insist on the policing of the morality of users of public resources.

There's a difference between "You know, this can be problematic for reasons OTHER than prudishness" and "Rape victims should be able to pass whatever laws they want."

Jesus. Nevermind.
posted by verb at 9:12 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Either way, other people seeing what's on another person's screen is a problem of optics and funding more than it is of morality.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:14 AM on April 28, 2011


Jesus. Nevermind.

You're the one who threw in the "boo-hoo whiny" BS. So, yeah, never mind. Agree to disagree, etc., etc.
posted by blucevalo at 9:15 AM on April 28, 2011


You know what, I apologize. It's been a crap week for reasons unrelated to this thread, and that makes it a bad time for me to get into a discussion about a loaded subject. So, sorry for shitting in the thread. Carry on.
posted by verb at 9:18 AM on April 28, 2011


Nattie, who apparently lacks the ability to recognize hamburger, brings up people traumatized over sex. Yea, okay. How many are routinely traumatized with automobile accidents? Over 32 thousand people DIED in America, last year, in traffic accidents. Is their trauma less valid than those other's sex-related trauma? Why is the sexual somehow more valid a complaint than stinky nasty cars, that belch poison into the air we breath?

Looking at porn in the library seems silly and rude to me. But far less offensive than having a hissy fit because someone is looking at porn. If you really are that upset about someone looking at porn, then you really ought to take that person home and fuck him (of course it's a him), or otherwise arrange for that to occur. What? No? Okay. Now sit down and shut up about it.
posted by Goofyy at 9:20 AM on April 28, 2011


Seriously folks. If you put it on the ballot to ask taxpayers if they wished to allow people to use their tax dollars to pay for people to look at porn, what do you think the results would be? Yeah, let's just go ahead and give fiscal and social conservatives piles of ammunition to gut our public libraries in a moral panic. This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by mullingitover at 9:21 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


it requires a defense of providing any and all information as a positive good

No, if that's your standard then it requires a defense of providing any and all information, on demand, to anyone at any time. Because you're suggesting, basically, that institutions should never make distinctions of degree or kind. You're suggesting that an institution that prohibits porn is, somehow, incapable of providing information on sex-ed, which is plainly absurd.

because anything else means we suddenly need to make a whole lot of moral decisions for other people.

Isn't this exactly how you and I and every institution we interact with functions every day? We all make moral decisions for other people. Sometimes we make good decisions, sometimes we make bad decision. We argue and fight over those decisions, but we do make them, daily. It seems absurd to suggest that our only alternatives here are a strict moral authoritarianism or an equally lax moral laissez-faire.

pretty soon the library is making all kinds of moral distinctions that are difficult and uncomfortable to make.

How is this any different from the way libraries have always purchased books?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:25 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Freedom of speech guarantees that people can express whatever ideas they want to express. It doesn't obligate anyone to provide a platform for the distribution of those ideas. This is a really common (and really facile) misunderstanding about freedom of speech.
No one in this thread, as far as I can tell, is saying that libraries should be forced to let people view porn. The library does allow people to view porn, and the discussion is about whether or not that is OK.
But I think it's a bad idea, or rather, maybe, a pointless idea, bla bla bla just becomes more trouble than it's worth and really requires a defense of porn as a positive good, something a library should try to provide to it's patrons, if you think it should be permitted.
Well, the people who are actually running the libraries feel different, and I imagine they know what they're doing. If I were running a library I wouldn't allow people to look at porn on machines where anyone could see the monitors. I certainly wouldn't let them jerk off. But I would probably setup a lab with more private cubicles or something and not monitor what people are doing.

The thing is there is a lot of stuff that's pornographic but not intended to be looked at solely for porn value. There are lots of NSFW links on reddit and metafilter that are interesting. Should people at libraries only be allowed to look at SFW links on social media sites? I would say no. I wouldn't want people looking at youporn or whatever, but at the same time it doesn't bother me if people look at risqué material. There isn't a clean dividing line between "hardcore porn" and "totally SFW"
This stuff seems like it's very dangerous to libraries, and it's a terrible time for mounting a vigorous defense of people's right to get their rocks off in publicly funded institutions. IMHO if a person walking by can see porn on your screen, you should get fined a few hundred bucks and banned from the library. Send undercover cops in for routine sweeps and put a few faces in the newspaper and this will go away in a heartbeat.
Yeah, we should engage in draconian laws in order to prevent a moral panic that could result in draconian laws! And btw cops aren't free either. Why not just arrest the masturbators (i.e. people 'getting their rocks off')

When did everyone become such prudes?
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "Yeah, we should engage in draconian laws in order to prevent a moral panic that could result in draconian laws!"

Perhaps I was a tad aggressive in my hypothetical. Maybe just ban people from the library, sans fine.

My point is that if there are no reasonable limits put in place, unreasonable limits (and in the current economic and political climate, 'fuck it, privatize all the libraries' is not unthinkable) will be imposed for us.
posted by mullingitover at 9:38 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My point is that if there are no reasonable limits put in place, unreasonable limits (and in the current economic and political climate, 'fuck it, privatize all the libraries' is not unthinkable) will be imposed for us.
Well, I'm not a fan of cowardice as a rational for policy.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


My system's rule is that patrons are allowed to view (legal) pornography, but...if another patron complains because it's making them uncomfortable we ask/tell them to stop. And of course any sort of masturbatory activity gets you kicked out and probably banned for a while. This arrangement seems to work pretty well.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:45 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look, the anti-pornos here are arguing for a policy that sounds good in principle, but is fantastically unworkable in general.

1) There's no good way to define "porn" and filters are ineffective.

Aside from having Potter Stewart verify every website, there's no real way to sort out porn a priori. The filters that try to do so always also have collateral damage in terms of what they exclude, from breast exams to information on coming out, and what constitutes "porn" is a political decision as much as anything else.

2) "Disturbing" is also an incredibly subjective standard

Should I be allowed to watch Irreversible in the library? It features a fairly graphic anal rape scene. What about Last Tango In Paris? Likewise. Brown Bunny? What about looking at Joel Peter Witkin photos? Those often have pregnant corpses split open.

Basically, it comes down to the same problem as demanding NSFW on everything here — there's no good way to define it, and it puts the onus on other people to make sure that you're not offended.

3) What makes porn more disturbing than violence?

The separation is arbitrary. Auschwitz photos are pretty fucking grim, to give the understatement of the year. They also feature nudity. The Saw movies, or Human Centipede, feature no graphic sex, but would likely fuck a kid up much more than Who Fucked Roger Rabbit (I do note with some amusement the number of "ass bangers" as putative porn titles, like anal is just so far above and beyond regular ol' P-in-V sex.)

4) These policies are hard to enforce

Librarians have enough to do as it is without critically evaluating every instance of NSFW content on somebody's computer. Even then, there's always an argument of exculpating circumstances. Like Jeanne said, it becomes more effort to catch everyone who needs catching than it is to just let people see what they want.

5) The public is broad

There's no compelling reason to single out porn from amongst all the things that patrons could watch, and there's no ability to really enforce the ban outside of making librarians into nannies, and frankly, it's not your right to tell anyone else what they can and cannot watch.

The glare shields and a policy against actual sexual acts (masturbating, etc.) are the compromise that is needed here, and outside of htat if you see something you don't like, well, take your lumps because we're in a pluralistic democracy and realize that nearly everyone else has to see something they'd rather not too.
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on April 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


When did everyone become such prudes?

demoi I think you're making some pretty reasonable and sound argument so I'm not sure why you feel the need to toss in this sort of lazy derailifying ad hominem.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


me: “... pretty soon the library is making all kinds of moral distinctions that are difficult and uncomfortable to make.”

octobersurprise: “How is this any different from the way libraries have always purchased books?”

As someone who has worked in acquisitions for two different university libraries, let me say that, in my experience, this is very different from the way libraries generally purchase books.

The principle on which libraries usually purchase books is user demand; people want a particular book or type of book – in those university libraries, because of a class running next semester, or because of a ramping-up of a certain type of subject specialties, or even just because certain books get checked out a lot and are requested – and the libraries attempts to purchase more of those in-demand books.

I have never known a library that drove acquisitions based on moral principles, or by deciding what people should be reading. I guess those libraries probably exist – on the campuses of religious schools, maybe – but I am far from convinced that this is how public libraries should be run. In fact, it's pretty much my conviction that public libraries exist with the duty to provide the public with whatever information they need and request, not whatever information the library things is morally correct.

This might seem like a minor distinction, but I assure you that there are many librarians in the world at large who take this duty as sacred, and feel as though their purpose as librarians is to provide the information that people seek, whatever it may be.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 AM on April 28, 2011


things thinks
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 AM on April 28, 2011


This thread has been quite entertaining.

First off, as long as patrons aren't jacking off there shouldn't be a problem.

These lose arguements of disturbing are really weak. I think most people if not all have seen quite a bit of disturbing material/events in their life that some patron looking at porn is ranked rather low on a list. If seeing porn on a computer screen is the most disturbing thing one has witnessed, one must be living in a bubble or under a rock.

Libraries are suppose to provide information for all patrons even those with what some may consider fringe or obscene.
posted by handbanana at 10:24 AM on April 28, 2011


shakespeherian, I haven't taken any logic courses or anything like that, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong; however, it seems to me that Demoi is not using an ad hominem. From what it seems, demoi is stating that the previous comment looks prudish, not that the argument is invalid because the person is a prude. Ad hominem =\= name calling or abuse. Person A can call Person B a jerk and not be using an ad hominem.
posted by Knigel at 10:27 AM on April 28, 2011


Freedom of speech guarantees that people can express whatever ideas they want to express. It doesn't obligate anyone to provide a platform for the distribution of those ideas. This is a really common (and really facile) misunderstanding about freedom of speech. I can't compel a newspaper to print my ideas, or a television station to broadcast them, or a webhost to host them, or a library (public or private) to provide access to them.

Freedom of speech is more than just "expressing ideas", it's also the right to seek and receive information. Newspapers and television stations are private entities, and as such have no obligation to honor anyone's first amendment rights. Public libraries, as an extension of the government, do have that responsibility.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh, regardless.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2011


Basically, it comes down to the same problem as demanding NSFW on everything here — there's no good way to define it, and it puts the onus on other people to make sure that you're not offended.
Well, NSFW is simple. "Would someone get fired if they were caught looking at this at work?" You want to be as broad as possible because the purpose is to stop people from getting fired. They can look at the link at home. It doesn't have to be pornographic, but rather anything that anyone might consider inappropriate. The problem with having that standard in a library is that there is a ton of stuff that might be labeled NSFW, but rather just run of the mill stuff yet salacious that people link too on sites like metafilter/reddit/whatever.
demoi I think you're making some pretty reasonable and sound argument so I'm not sure why you feel the need to toss in this sort of lazy derailifying ad hominem.
It's a real question though. I know that on the internet, back in the day, people would be outraged at the idea of censoring the internet in libraries. Slashdot had several threads about it when it was proposed in the hometown of the site, and people were livid. I really am surprised to see this attitude. It's not really something I've seen before.
me: “... pretty soon the library is making all kinds of moral distinctions that are difficult and uncomfortable to make.”

octobersurprise: “How is this any different from the way libraries have always purchased books?”
The other thing: Libraries obviously review or make a decision on each book they get (or set of books? How do they pick books, I wonder) but they couldn't possibly make decisions about every single website, or every single image or video on social media sites and message boards.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 AM on April 28, 2011


"Well, NSFW is simple. "Would someone get fired if they were caught looking at this at work?" You want to be as broad as possible because the purpose is to stop people from getting fired. They can look at the link at home. It doesn't have to be pornographic, but rather anything that anyone might consider inappropriate. The problem with having that standard in a library is that there is a ton of stuff that might be labeled NSFW, but rather just run of the mill stuff yet salacious that people link too on sites like metafilter/reddit/whatever."

Well, no. Technically, when I was working back at the Death Star, MeFi would have gotten me fired (if the policies weren't capriciously enforced), whereas hardcore porn wouldn't have.

"Anything that anyone might consider inappropriate" is an insane standard, even if there are generally agreed upon norms.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 AM on April 28, 2011


I have never known a library that drove acquisitions based on moral principles

You used the phrase "moral decisions." My point was, distinctions were made, by you, or the requesting faculty member, or the subject bibliographer. Someone decided that some acquisitions were preferable to others. You didn't have unlimited resources to "provide any and all information," nor did you because "any and all information, on demand, here and now" is an unreasonable standard in the real world. Failing to provide library patrons with an opportunity to watch porn at their leisure is not a crime against intellectual freedom.

it's pretty much my conviction that public libraries exist with the duty to provide the public with whatever information they need and request, not whatever information the library things is morally correct.

Whatever? Is this absolutely the case? Because I can think of many things someone might want to know that most of us would find morally objectionable. Do you believe that librarians have the duty (sacred duty, I think you said) to provide this information?

I wouldn't want people looking at youporn or whatever, but at the same time it doesn't bother me if people look at risqué material. There isn't a clean dividing line between "hardcore porn" and "totally SFW"

I don't disagree with this, even if I think the line is brighter than you do. I'm not at all in favor of censorship from above. I don't think it's an all or nothing proposition. Libraries can (and should be able to) provide patrons with vast amounts of information that might be considered "nsfw" in some way without feeling obligated to make themselves places for people who want to watch youporn all day.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:51 AM on April 28, 2011


One of the real problems that almost all libraries that were built prior to the last decade have, with regard to giving patrons privacy for whatever they want to look at, is that retrofitting a building for public computers almost always involves putting them in the middle of the room. It's much easier to have a single computer table with several stations that you can run one cable path to, for power and network access; even with more libraries providing WiFi access, you still need that power source. If you wanted to do something like provide tablets for people so that they'd have the same opportunity for privacy as book readers, then you've got to provide that additional infrastructure for keeping them charged, maintaining them, billing people for damaged/destroyed devices, and additional security (probably involving RFID tags, which are far from foolproof) to keep them all from walking out the door.

No less nightmarish from a librarian's viewpoint is the idea of having some porn patrol monitoring patrons; libraries that have had their budgets cut or frozen for several years running don't have the personnel to monitor them constantly, and even if you wanted to take a casual stroll past the public access computers every fifteen minutes or so, say, you would still be opening yourself up to liability if someone opened up Dog-Fuckers-a-Go-Go ten seconds after you went by and ten seconds before little Suzy Smith cruises past. Some tabloid bottom-feeder can feign shock and outrage that the local library is upfront about not shoulder-surfing patrons constantly, but will they then follow that up with calls for the tax hikes that would be necessary for that sort of monitoring? What do you think? (And, as has already been mentioned, web filters really don't work; you can check out the methods and tools suggested by the fine folks at Peacefire--I can't link directly to it right now, because I myself am behind a web filter at the moment, although if I wanted to, I could get access via something that rhymes with "zoogle bash".)

So, yeah, it's not pleasant to contemplate, but regardless of how much sympathy you have for people that might be prone to triggery stuff in porn, hard cases still make for bad law. If you have that one guy who deliberately opens up a window with crazy-nasty porn whenever there are kids wandering around, you can talk to your library's/institution's legal counsel to see if you have a basis for banning that patron or withdrawing his computer access (possibly setting yourself up for a lawsuit like Kreimer v. Morristown), or you can look at the issue of kids being unsupervised in the library, which is a whole 'nother issue by itself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:54 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, the above (in which I'm looking at more practical considerations) doesn't go into the whole what-is-porn issue, which will get you different answers depending on who you ask (as the old joke goes, porn is what you like, erotica is what I like), and which could easily lead to situations in which it's OK if patrons look at Robert Mapplethorpe photos of flowers and Patti Smith, but verboten for his self-portraits with the bullwhip.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:58 AM on April 28, 2011


regardless of how much sympathy you have for people that might be prone to triggery stuff in porn, hard cases still make for bad law

Fool that I am, I stopped back in. My intent isn't to be fighty, but to point out clearly what I was trying to say earlier when discussing triggering issues: there are reasons other than prudishness and a desire to control other peoples' lives for being ambivalent about viewing porn in shared spaces.

My point was not to strong-arm anyone into accepting restrictions on patrons, but to make clear that, contrary to the glib pronunciations of many people in this thread, it's not just about religious zealots trying to make sex evil. Suggesting that is the case is just as unhelpful as suggesting that those who are against restrictions are pro-child-molestation.

Hard cases do, in fact, make bad law. What I find strange and frustrating is the attempt to deny that they are hard cases at all.
posted by verb at 12:03 PM on April 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


A book costs money and takes up shelf space. If you buy the new James Patterson, that's $15 and 2 inches you don't have for some other book. That's the only thing that creates the necessity of picking and choosing one book over another book; most librarians, I suspect, would be more than thrilled to subscribe to the database of "all the books ever" if such a thing ever comes into existence.

(Note: I'm not directly involved in collections so I couldn't tell you the exact cost of a particular book after discounts and processing costs...)

With computers, the limited resource is time, not materials. So, how do you fairly apportion out time? You can say "you have to use your time on the computer for X, Y, and Z which we have deemed acceptable," and then attempt to police that -- and deal with the fights when that fails -- or you can say that everyone has half an hour that they can use as they choose. Choosing to allow certain web sites takes zero away from the library's budget, and indeed, it's blocking them that's the more expensive option in terms of staff hours. (Privacy screens are way cheap compared to hiring a computer nanny.)

This whole thing started when 38-year-old Santiago Real was taking too much time viewing pornography on a library computer, while 25-year-old Durail Wright sat, stewed, and became irate. The two exchanged handfuls of fist cuisine before being broken up by police.

But I have seen these same kinds of disagreements break out whenever a patron tried to say that another patron's computer usage was illegitimate or frivolous -- could be YouTube or flash games or whatever. And at that point, how do you judge what "illegitimate or frivolous" looks like?
posted by Jeanne at 12:03 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


ixohoxi: "Freedom of speech guarantees that people can express whatever ideas they want to express. It doesn't obligate anyone to provide a platform for the distribution of those ideas. This is a really common (and really facile) misunderstanding about freedom of speech."

We're not just talking about "freedom of speech," we're talking about freedom of information. The whole point of a library - and it's a hugely important point that's central to civil society - is that wealth and inborn privilege should not dictate what information you have access to. It doesn't matter if you're using it to get a job, kill time, or get a boner. At the library, everything is yours. I really don't want to start putting asterisks on that statement.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:18 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


octobersurprise: "You used the phrase "moral decisions." My point was, distinctions were made, by you, or the requesting faculty member, or the subject bibliographer. Someone decided that some acquisitions were preferable to others. You didn't have unlimited resources to "provide any and all information," nor did you because "any and all information, on demand, here and now" is an unreasonable standard in the real world."

Most librarians I know would say that, if they could offer every book requested, they would. Their priority decisions are not made on any basis except demand. But this is diffent anyway, because it's actually quite easy for a library to offer access to any and all websites.

me: "... it's pretty much my conviction that public libraries exist with the duty to provide the public with whatever information they need and request, not whatever information the library things is morally correct."

octobersurprise: "Whatever? Is this absolutely the case? Because I can think of many things someone might want to know that most of us would find morally objectionable. Do you believe that librarians have the duty (sacred duty, I think you said) to provide this information?"

Yes, I do. And believe me, I've thought about it. Maybe we should talk examples. What information can you think of that is morally objectionable, and that libraries should be barred from providing?
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Whatever? Is this absolutely the case? Because I can think of many things someone might want to know that most of us would find morally objectionable. Do you believe that librarians have the duty (sacred duty, I think you said) to provide this information?"

Honestly, yeah. That many people could find something objectionable isn't a reason to exclude it, and librarians aren't moral guardians — they're information professionals.

But c'mon, let's hear your examples and see how they're different in substance — not just in subject — from plenty of things that hardline conservatives would want to censor.

The job of librarians is to help people find the information they want (or need), not to only help them find edifying texts.
posted by klangklangston at 12:33 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem here is that different groups of patrons have radically different ideas about what public libraries are or should be, but they can't be all things to all people.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "Most librarians I know would say that, if they could offer every book requested, they would. "

How well is interlibrary loan understood/advertised? I used it a lot when I lived in South Dakota, both for research and for fun. I've never had a need for it since I moved to San Francisco. I've always wondered if ILL is one of those things that would crumble if too many people tried to do it at once.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2011


what the porn results in is the health issue

Then outlaw public masturbation. Oh wait.

It's silicone enlarged crack queens being beaten and demeaned by men with digitally enhanced penises.

It's OK to stereotype and demean pornographic actors? The porn industry (commercial and non) has its problems, but that was a hateful comment.

I don't think it should be a problem to breastfeed in public. It's not a sexualized activity.

How about kissing on the mouth in public?

The problem is that it's impossible to agree on a definition of "porn"

That would be the shortest, bestest answer.

Filter porn, okay; what do you do about flash games, what do you do about YouTube, what do you do about blogs?

Also that. I watch more "porn" on YouTube than most other sites. I doubt libraries would block YouTube.

Are there people who look at porn for non-masturbatory purposes?

Depends on how you define "non-masturbatory" but likely yes. I certainly watch it without jacking off or even getting an erection. It's hard to gauge sexual arousal, but yes, I watch porn without jacking off.

I mean, have you never watched porn of the opposite orientation? Also, many couples watch porn together and have some form of sex (or don't) that probably wouldn't be considered "masturbatory."

you can look at the issue of kids being unsupervised in the library, which is a whole 'nother issue by itself

Ugh, maybe my library is different, but there are almost always unsupervised kids in there ... which is great, imo. I'd hate to see a rule against it. These kids get ignored by their parents ... and then you punish them by not being able to use the library? No way.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:45 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It's silicone enlarged crack queens being beaten and demeaned by men with digitally enhanced penises."

Oh, and just wanted to touch on this — the digitally-enhanced penises would only be in still shots, never video (too expensive to animate), and even then, those are mostly ads for fakety penis enlargement pills.

Also, the silicone-enlarged are rarely the crack queens — the crackhead body type is a lot more skinny and wiry.

One final thing — if this is all the porn you see, you may want to adjust your search terms. Anyone can memail me for suggestions. Just don't ask a librarian, because, you know, they're not there to be your masturbatory aids.
posted by klangklangston at 12:54 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The two exchanged handfuls of fist cuisine before being broken up by police.

Also, I never thought "fist cuisine" would make it into the mainstream lexicon. (Not sure it has ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:13 PM on April 28, 2011


Mister Fabulous: "People can develop a communication system that involves inserting your fingers in the hole to indicate that you want to pass a "message" between one another."

RFC 6969: STANDARD FOR THE FORMAT OF PORN BOOTH DICK HOLE MESSAGES.
posted by Reverend John at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like how the excuse used in the article is that surfing objectionable material doesn't 'expand the mind.'
Whose to say that it doesn't? It might!
But, really, are all the Danielle Steele books and romance novels expanding minds?

Blocking these sites gets into a grey area. What constitutes objectionable material? It's pretty easy to do a basic Google image search of something otherwise innocent and end up with boobs popping up on screen.

Still, I would put up a block on explicit xxx sites and let people go in and turn them off.
posted by Rashomon at 1:45 PM on April 28, 2011


What information can you think of that is morally objectionable, and that libraries should be barred from providing?

Did I say I thought libraries should be barred from providing information? No, I did not. I questioned the alleged duty of librarians to provide information absolutely. I can only speak for myself but I would probably decline, for example, to provide information that I thought would help perpetrate violent crimes and I'd be disinclined to help someone try to evade taxes or environmental or safety regulations. I could think of more examples, probably, but those come to mind immediately. I'm not a computer. If I'm asked a question, I will consult my own judgment before answering. This seems obvious to me.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2011


I can only speak for myself but I would probably decline, for example, to provide information that I thought would help perpetrate violent crimes and I'd be disinclined to help someone try to evade taxes or environmental or safety regulations.

What if you worked for a corporation or a law firm and it was part of your job description, stated or unstated, to help them try to evade regulations? Sounds like something many people, librarians or not, do every day of the week -- because it's their job to help a client or to help their employer achieve a goal. And don't give me the answer "I wouldn't ever work for such a corporation," either. People have to put food on their tables, one way or another.
posted by blucevalo at 2:02 PM on April 28, 2011


"Did I say I thought libraries should be barred from providing information? No, I did not. I questioned the alleged duty of librarians to provide information absolutely. I can only speak for myself but I would probably decline, for example, to provide information that I thought would help perpetrate violent crimes and I'd be disinclined to help someone try to evade taxes or environmental or safety regulations. I could think of more examples, probably, but those come to mind immediately. I'm not a computer. If I'm asked a question, I will consult my own judgment before answering. This seems obvious to me."

And in all of those cases, there are legitimate uses for the information, and — I reiterate — it's not your call to make whether anyone has a legitimate need of the information.

If I went in to the library and asked for information about committing murder and getting away with it, it's not your job to determine whether or not I really want to commit murder or whether I'm researching a story or am just curious.

Judgment is flawed, and even if you present yourself as the perfect arbiter, you cannot hold that your fellow librarians would also possess the wisdom of Solomon. Ergo, you can't present that as a general guideline.

Further, by holding this belief, you decrease the utility of the library for all. If you really have concerns about a patron's information usage, then provide them the information and contact the police.
posted by klangklangston at 2:05 PM on April 28, 2011


Honestly, if you want to know how to commit murder and get away with it, the true crime section might be the best place to start. So... get rid of the true crime section? What about mystery novels and CSI DVDs?
posted by Jeanne at 2:20 PM on April 28, 2011


octobersurprise"Did I say I thought libraries should be barred from providing information? No, I did not. I questioned the alleged duty of librarians to provide information absolutely."

That's true, you didnt say that, and I'm sorry I phrased it that way - I'm not trying to twist your words or catch you out here. I'm more interested in talking about the subject at hand.

"I can only speak for myself but I would probably decline, for example, to provide information that I thought would help perpetrate violent crimes and I'd be disinclined to help someone try to evade taxes or environmental or safety regulations. I could think of more examples, probably, but those come to mind immediately. I'm not a computer. If I'm asked a question, I will consult my own judgment before answering. This seems obvious to me."

Well, these are good examples, and in response I can say that I think they're cases where the freedom of information is better than restriction. For example: what if an accountant or a tax lawyer suspects that someone is committing tax evasion, and wants to know what to look for? What if locals want to know how companies might be abrogating environmental protections in their town? The fact is that, if someone wants to break these laws, they're likely to find a way, with or without a library. Better that the information be known and available to all, so that their crimes can be recognized for what they are.
posted by koeselitz at 2:44 PM on April 28, 2011


So why do we hide it, stigmatize it, culturally deride the silliness that is "porn?"

It's a drain on the intellect and privileges the body, not the mind.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:05 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think they're cases where the freedom of information is better than restriction.

I did a course on special libraries when I was in library school and we got to go out to an island prison and meet the librarian there. She was talking about how when the new warden came, he was much more open minded than the old warden. The old warden had made her get rid of books on boat-building and swimming. The new warden said that if people were getting to the point where reading a book about boats was the only thing standing between them and escape, he had worse problems than people's access to library materials.
posted by jessamyn at 4:24 PM on April 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


If I went in to the library and asked for information about committing murder and getting away with it, it's not your job to determine whether or not I really want to commit murder or whether I'm researching a story or am just curious.

Well, we'll disagree, then. Let me be clear, though, I'm not saying that I'd refuse to answer any question about committing a murder, obviously there are plenty of circumstances where that's a perfectly innocent question; I'm just saying that I reserve the right to decide for myself when it is or isn't an innocent question and I don't think I have a duty to provide information even when I think it might not be used innocently.

even if you present yourself as the perfect arbiter, you cannot hold that your fellow librarians would also possess the wisdom of Solomon. Ergo, you can't present that as a general guideline

I don't, I promise you. I'm fully cognizant I might be wrong in one of these possible situations. Maybe badly wrong. But the possible wrongness here doesn't seem to be worse than the possible wrongness of failing to use my own judgment. (Also, I'm not presuming to will a universal law; I'm reporting on what I feel is required of me. (By a universal law? Hm. We could get a little more meta here if we tried, but I'm not sure I want to wade into those weeds today. I confess I tend to consequentialism. Yeah. It's a vice.))

For example: what if an accountant or a tax lawyer suspects that someone is committing tax evasion, and wants to know what to look for? What if locals want to know how companies might be abrogating environmental protections in their town?

Of course there can be good reasons for every question that might seem iffy. Which is why I used words like "probably" and "disinclined." I'd like to think I can distinguish between innocence and not-so-innocence. (I'd like to believe that. I'm aware that might be delusion.) I will say that I've never been asked a question I didn't feel I could answer. I kind of doubt that I ever will be. And that that still doesn't persuade me that I have a duty to provide information regardless.

And don't give me the answer "I wouldn't ever work for such a corporation," either. People have to put food on their tables, one way or another.

How about the answer: I've been fortunate enough not to have to make that choice and while I don't care to judge someone who hasn't been that fortunate in the abstract, I don't see how another's choices place me under a requirement.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:02 PM on April 28, 2011


"Well, we'll disagree, then. Let me be clear, though, I'm not saying that I'd refuse to answer any question about committing a murder, obviously there are plenty of circumstances where that's a perfectly innocent question; I'm just saying that I reserve the right to decide for myself when it is or isn't an innocent question and I don't think I have a duty to provide information even when I think it might not be used innocently. "

That's fine if you believe that, but then you shouldn't be a librarian and if I felt like I was being forced to jump through any hoops like that, I'd try very hard to have the librarian fired. Because it's not their job to judge what information I'm entitled to. It's their job to help me find that information. At the very least, it is your duty to recuse yourself and have another librarian find the information for them.

Just like how it's not the pharmacists' job to decide whether I (or anyone) deserves birth control. It's their job to provide it to me.

"I don't, I promise you. I'm fully cognizant I might be wrong in one of these possible situations. Maybe badly wrong. But the possible wrongness here doesn't seem to be worse than the possible wrongness of failing to use my own judgment."

Except that the chances of preventing a murder are so small as to be infinitesimal, and the chances of harming a patron's library utility are manifest. By reckoning so, you show your judgment to be suspect in a situation in which you ask us to rely upon your judgment.

Further, even as a consequentialist, you owe it to both the patron and yourself to come to a decision by reason, which is required to be consistent. If the rule should be one thing for yourself, and another for someone else, that's not consistent; that's arbitrary. And as an arbitrary line can be drawn at any point, that's inherently dangerous to the idea of information access that grounds public libraries.

Frankly, I think that you're not actually looking to have any sort of argument on this, but have rather conjured some incredible hypotheticals in your head in order to justify a glib position based on personal mores, even if it's to the detriment of the public. I simply cannot imagine that this is informed by any real personal experience — I doubt very much that you have ever helped a murderer. Ergo, your ability to divine the consequences of any given question is only tested in the not-murder category.

And, like I said, you should feel free to call the police if you feel that someone is truly likely to commit a serious crime. Otherwise, in denying someone access to information, you're just another judgmental busybody, and the public sector could use fewer of those.
posted by klangklangston at 5:38 PM on April 28, 2011


I'd try very hard to have the librarian fired.

Why don't you email me and I'll give you my supervisor's name and number. You can make your best case to him.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:48 PM on April 28, 2011


Well, no. Technically, when I was working back at the Death Star, MeFi would have gotten me fired (if the policies weren't capriciously enforced), whereas hardcore porn wouldn't have.

I don't mean to derail but this fact blows my mind on a number of levels. I thought you were on the side of good, klang? And what did the Empire have against MetaFilter?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:01 PM on April 28, 2011


"Why don't you email me and I'll give you my supervisor's name and number. You can make your best case to him."

Why don't you save me the time and go tell him yourself that you can't be trusted to give reliable information to patrons except when you deem them worthy?

I mean, unless this is just a series of hypotheticals meant to be provocative, and not based on any real experience.
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 PM on April 28, 2011


Why don't you save me the time and go tell him yourself

You're the tough guy here, suddenly all about how you'll have someone fired. Put up or shut up. I mean, I'd be delighted to have an office conversation next week about the guy from the internet who thinks I should be fired, but we do all have better things to do, probably. I say probably. Don't let that stop you!

except when you deem them worthy?

Except I haven't said that at all. Which means either I've been very unclear or you're so angry about something you think I'm saying that you aren't reading what I'm writing. If I was unclear, well, so be it. I'm sorry. Life goes on. If you think I'm saying something I'm not, well, I'll live. I'm not interested in repeating myself. Until now I was approaching this like a disagreement, which was fine, now that you've turned it into an argument you can piss off.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2011


Here in my little town deep in flyover country, our problem is literally, that the library's roof is unsound. The building is falling apart. The democrats don't want to pay for a solution unless it's a sweetheart deal for a favored real-estate guy. The republicans want to cut funding because less government expense is an absolute overriding good.

Taking a stand here of "anyone should be able to watch porn in the library, and keep your concern about children or triggers to yourself" is liable to alienate a fair chunk of the parents-and-seniors who are trying to support it. It may be a morally pure, and pro-freedom stand. But it will count for little if the place closes for lack of funding. The desire for perfect will help to kill the reality of mostly good enough.

There are people who will smile when that happens. People who never wanted books that promoted evolution, or that portrayed sexuality, available in the first place. I only wish we could focus on a coalition of the sane for long enough to beat those wolves from our doors before we lover of libraries point fingers at each other over our extremism or lack of ideological purity.
posted by tyllwin at 7:59 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The desire for perfect will help to kill the reality of mostly good enough.

And as much as I beat the drum of "we should fight for freedom!" I'm also well aware of the realities that many libraries live and work in. "Community standards" has always been not only sort of a hand-wavey way to explain why your library may have to do something that the ALA Library Bill of Rights [a nice idea of a document but not one with actual force behind it except a lot of huffy librarians] but a way to explain why you really may be over a barrel, especially lately.

I also went to Texas recently, where they are struggling to keep libraries open. I went to see this great speaker called Marty Klein who talked about America's War on Sex and the way there's a real chilling effect on a lot of the public sphere concerning sex topics and what exactly the problem is. One librarian got up to the microphone and talked about the erotica collection she has which is the most heavily circulated part of the collection, not just because it's titillating [well, there's that] but also because in that part of the country a lot of people can't get access to anything like that at all [except for the internet] so they interlibrary-loan it all the time. Constantly.

I was chitchatting in the hallway with some librarians afterwards and there was a woman from Oklahoma there who said she didn't even bother going to that program, as much as she'd like to because the culture in her library is so bent that she'll buy books on sex-related topics [standard stuff like the Good Vibrations guides, pretty straightforward, well-reviewed, big name publisher] and they somehow never make it out of technical services. The tech staff won't process the books and she doesn't have the political pull to overrule them and risk making a "thing" out of it and lose her job. I say this not to make an example out of anyone but to explain how insidious the culture policing can be, about how much people feel that if they can just control people's access to ideas, they can also corral the way they think. I know a lot of people feel that they're fighting a losing battle that would be getting lost more quickly if they weren't there trying and I have to say I respect that. I just hope we can aim for a future that's even better than that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 PM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I guess it really depends on what your notion of "mostly good enough" is. The communities where "inappropriate" material is frowned upon turn out to be the communities where people most need certain kinds of precious information. And, no, maybe in those communities a librarian isn't best served by mounting a massive porn-in-the-library campaign. But in precisely those places, I think we all need to hope there are librarians savvy enough to make sure at least that teenagers can look up "vagina" and "birth control" on Wikipedia, among other things.
posted by koeselitz at 8:31 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, and I promise I'll stop threadsitting this, I emailed with a lady from Salon about this today and she wrote this short piece.
posted by jessamyn at 8:32 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the supporters of porn access were supporting it on the basis of "This is NYC, get used to it. You don't like it, move back to Salt Lake," I don't think I'd argue the point. It just seems to e that mostly the conversation has been more absolute one way or the other than that.

I think "mostly good enough" is a library where Huckleberry Finn, and The Chocolate War and The Color Purple are on the shelves, and where you can look up "breast cancer" or "birth control methods" on the Internet. You gotta pick the hills you're willing to die on, and I suppose that's the point at which I'd rather crash and burn than compromise further. I don't disapprove of a more absolutist position. I'm just saying that I don't think you can win that fight in the larger political climate of the USA in 2011 so that's not the hand where I'd want to go all in.

I still think that broadly most of us here are on the same side. I just worry that by tearing each other up, we simply do the work of those we'd all disagree with .
posted by tyllwin at 9:24 PM on April 28, 2011


I think you're going to lose a whole lot of what should be your natural support base by throwing anyone with concerns under the "prude" bus, and insinuating that if you have any concerns about hardcore porn in libraries it's because you are homophobic or don't want to allow sex education.

The arguments seem to be very strident about how imperative it is to allow any kind of extreme porn, no matter who might be exposed to viewing it as a result, and if it means kids can't use the library, that's just the price you have to pay. If you feel like there is a majority of people who are going to work and fight to save libraries based on the most unyielding possible position in this regard, then I sincerely do wish you luck. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if a lot of people who love libraries don't really love the idea of libraries that have no relevance to their lives because they can't allow their kids to go there, and they don't feel comfortable using it themselves.

Believe me, I am reading and digesting all the arguments about this – that such a person's comfort level does not trump any other individual's right to view whatever they want to, and I certainly don't disagree with that. But since the situation as presented by absolutists in practical terms means that the individual's right to view any extreme porn trumps all other factors, and librarians can't or shouldn't be turned into porn policemen, and moving banks of terminals for this use away from the rest of the library is too costly/problematic, and PS: you're just a bigoted prude, anyway, you jerk... Well. A lot of otherwise open-minded, moderate people who love libraries are going to be thinking, "if we've painted ourselves into such a legal corner that we're faced with an all-or-nothing situation, maybe privatization isn't such a bad idea after all."

I'd think that trying to reassure people that libraries aren't going to be turned into a publicly funded equivalent of an adult video arcade might be more helpful than insulting and alienating a significant number of the precious few who would normally be inclined to fight shoulder to shoulder with you.
posted by taz at 10:12 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


When did everyone become such prudes?

Several millenia ago.

Or, individually, when they first had small daughters.

And no use telling people they're too uptight. Human nature is constant and you will not win.

I'd think that trying to reassure people that libraries aren't going to be turned into a publicly funded equivalent of an adult video arcade

Therein lies the rub. I've lived in places where this is effectively the case. I could not bring my then eight year old daughter into the reference section of the library because that's where the creepy louts were watching hardcore.

Hard to feel that some greater principle has been served under such circumstances. And frankly, anyone who suggests that I was being over protective can discuss it with me outside.

The irony that a block and a half a way there was a dirty movie shop that the under eighteen year olds were not permitted to access.

Dedicated desktops and velvet curtains if we really must. Problem solved.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:16 AM on April 29, 2011


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