PORN IN THE LIBRARY!

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“Why does no one think of the children?” ~ Over-reacting Legislator

This story happens all the time. Someone hears that someone saw someone at the library looking at something questionable (we will simply assume it is porn…it happens). Then a public official in need of a stance or a newpaper in need of a byline, states that filters are the answer to pornography at the public library. With a healthy does of emotionally laden lamentations of “what will ever happen to the children?”

Interestingly, in a rare moment of irony, the following post was meant for the Rapid City Journal article “Alderman takes on library porn” but the comment filtering algorithm on the newspaper’s website seemed to find profanity in my post and rejected it.

Ah, well…those filters sure work, don’t they?

Here is my response.

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The problem with filters is that they, at best, have a 60-70% success rate meaning 30-40% of the time the filter is actually blocking legitimate content or possibly letting questionable content through. The filters rely on proprietary algorithms through an expensive vendor that may or may not actually filter out the material the library wish to be filtered. These filters are also horrible at multimedia (images, video, feeds, Facebook, YouTube, Vimio, DeviantArt, whatever) so in order for them to work they need to blanket ban the entire site or a particular group of tags. Either way, legitimate material will get blocked while porn will still get through… [source]

So what good is the filter? It is money thrown away for the illusion of safety. Which is what Mr. Lewis is advocating for when he rants that a filter is the only sure-fire solution to this issue. I am sure the tagline of “protecting the children” also helps his future political career. Of course, this illusion of safety comes at a cost. By limiting access to the web you limit people’s access to information and communication. By blocking the library’s funding you destroy that access entirely.

What is worse is that even defining “porn” is problematic. Do nudes count? Would they be blocked? How about photo-blogs? Fetish-Art? Medical sites? The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society?

What happens when information of a sensitive nature but not questionable by the definition of the library’s policy gets blocked? Do we expect patrons to ask to have sensitive material unblocked? It seems an unnecessary hurdle to jump for an institution that is centered around the movement of information.

What happens with wi-fi access? Does that get filtered as well? Your iPhone? Kindle Fire?

When a library decides not to use a filtering device it is to protect the person’s right to view material rather than a blatant disregard for public safety or gross mismanagement.

The bottom-line is that filtering content online through ineffective measures is not ethically in line with a library’s mission. I can’t imagine a Mr. Lewis’ “blanket-block” of the library’s funding would do much either.

Library staff and management look to preserve the first amendment rights of all library users (as well as their freedom to view and read as defined by the ALA) with a healthy concern for public safety.

As a library-person that has had to deal with these issues, the best action to take is to create an internet policy (which the Rapid City Public Library has), enforce that policy (which they do) and encourage patrons to speak out when they suspect someone of viewing pornographic material. My current library has filters on all the computers and I have had to unblock more legitimate sites than I care to remember and still see questionable content come through. We deal with these issues as they <ahem> arise.

Pornography in libraries is an issue but neither filters nor cutting funding is the answer,

And a hearty horray to the Rapid City Public Library’s discussion of this issue. You can read their well-written response (“Access and Filtering in Libraries“) at The Rapid City Public Library press room. I loved this part.

In the last two years 907,655 people used the Rapid City Public Libraries, logging 256,050 hours on public internet computers. During that same time period there have been 38 incidents of individuals viewing inappropriate websites that have been addressed by staff and resulted in loss of library services. Our staff are present and prepared to address policy violations, we also appreciate it when the public can assist by informing staff their concerns.

 

 

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