LA Times Editorial: “Libraries Walk a Tightrope on Porn”

Posted on January 5, 2012 by


From the Editorial:

Despite what the librarians say, libraries already restrict access to certain kinds of print material by using their scant financial resources to purchase some books and magazines rather than others. Libraries are far more likely to have copies of the New Yorker on the periodical shelves than copies of Hustler. True, Internet access to porn sites doesn’t cost a library more than access to Wikipedia, but both involve making judgments about the relative worth of some materials over others.

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If a librarian sees a patron viewing nude photographs, how is the librarian to judge whether those photographs conform to community standards, an assessment that judges will mull for months without consensus? Librarians also have better things to do with their time than trying to figure out the value of what patrons are viewing, and for the most part, the public should be free to peruse information without having government staff literally looking over its shoulder.

That doesn’t mean libraries should adopt the laissez-faire approach to pornography that has led to complaints across the nation. Many libraries could do more to protect the majority of their patrons from lewd and inappropriate images without trampling free-speech rights.

Whenever possible, computers should be located in a more remote part of the library for viewing of adult material. If libraries have the money to do so, privacy screens should be installed on those computers to make it hard for passersby to see the content.

And for all library computers, the U.S. Supreme Court’s solution seems the most reasonable one, whether or not federal funding is involved. Internet content should be filtered until a patron requests that the filter be temporarily removed. That might be mildly embarrassing for the individual library patron, but the trade-off is worthwhile. It protects expression while imposing reasonable, restrained access requirements, and it avoids censoring adult material while doing the most to preserve the rights of all who seek knowledge within a library’s walls.

Read the Complete Editorial

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