Was I seeing things or did I really read the following paragraph in an article in the Washington Post entitled “Policing Porn Is Not Part of Job Description”:
“At most public libraries in the Washington area, an adult can view pornography on a library computer more or less unfettered. Montgomery [County] asks customers to be considerate of others when viewing Web sites. If others are put off, librarians will provide the viewer of the offending material with a ‘privacy screen.’”
Nope, I wasn’t seeing things. Holy cow! Talk about some accommodating librarians. I already knew — er, that is, I’ve read — that the American Library Association’s (ALA) recommended policies on dealing with the viewing of pornography were lax, but this is ridiculous. Privacy screens? Well then, how about a box of Kleenex for that messy, porn-consuming library patron after he gets the “information” he was seeking? And how about a cigarette for afterwards?
Okay, my bad. Now I’m sinking into the realm of absurdity. Everybody knows public libraries are smoke-free environments. If somebody wants to do something filthy and immoral like smoking tobacco, he’ll have to go somewhere else. But wile away the hours looking at femalebodyparts.com? No problem. Your public library is there to serve!
It’s not your father’s public library, that’s for sure. When I was coming up it seemed like most librarians were stodgy, frumpish women with names like “Mildred,” who wore their hair up in buns and went around admonishing people not to talk too loud. Now, they don’t even admonish people for using government property to look at pictures of naked women, but instead hand out privacy screens and, on occasion, give stern lectures on First Amendment rights to those who complain too vociferously about such astonishing accommodation.
Which leads us to the actual main topic of the Washington Post article, and guess what? All that stuff about libidinous library lotharios and the lenient librarians who enable them was merely incidental to the real outrage. Here’s how the article began:
“Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda one day last week and demanded the attention of all patrons using the computers. Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden. The men looked stern and wore baseball caps emblazoned with the words “Homeland Security”.
Are you beginning to get the picture? Those “stern looking” men are the bad guys in this library, not the cyberspace sensualists. The article continued:
“The bizarre scene unfolded… leaving some residents confused and forcing county officials to explain how employees assigned to protect county buildings against terrorists came to see it as their job to police the viewing of pornography.”
Notice how from the perspective of the writer of the article, what made the scene “bizarre” was the Homeland Security agents’ behavior, not that of anyone who might have been using the facilities of a public library as his own personal government-funded peep show. The article continued:
“After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an internet user’s choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside… A librarian intervened [my italics], and the two men went into the library’s work area to discuss the matter.”
Wow! An intrepid librarian intervened and the end result was that a couple of rogue Homeland Security officers who got their kicks pushing around innocent library patrons were banished from that lofty bastion of First Amendment freedom. Fight the power!
The article continued: “Later that afternoon, Montgomery County’s chief administrative officer, Bruce Romer, issued a statement calling the incident ‘unfortunate’ and ‘regrettable’.” You know, the behavior of the officers, not the fact that a public library got outed as a safe haven for pornography-lovers.
By now, you probably realize that the title of the Post article, “Policing Porn Is Not Part of Job Description”, wasn’t referring to the librarians’ job description, but rather that of Homeland Security agents. The essence of the article is that it’s none of their business and why don’t they go find some terrorists or other real bad guys to pick on.
So what are the official rules regarding this sort of thing at the Little Falls library? If you go to their website and look at their rules for the use of the internet, you’ll see that only “materials that are obscene or constitute child pornography” are prohibited. But the funny thing is that most garden variety pornography is not considered obscene under the law.
What that means is, if you happen to be some stodgy, uptight killjoy who gets offended by the sight of a little skin and maybe some heavy breathing from the Internet station next to yours, you‘re the one with the problem. But just because you feel icky sitting next to some guy while he indulges his carnal desires via computer isn’t a good enough reason to deprive him of his intellectual freedom.
And anyway, how big of a problem is this, really? Leslie Burger, president-elect of the ALA, said, in what was obviously meant to be a reassuring way, that “libraries are not the hotbed of looking at porn sites.” In other words, no big deal, rarely happens, don’t sweat it.
Really? They seem to be hotbed enough that somebody decided the best way to deal with it is to pass out privacy screens to lecherous patrons. What’s next, privacy rooms with soundproof walls and locks on the doors for those lusty citizens who just can’t find any other place to exercise their constitutional rights?
Last paragraph in the Post article: “Still, Montgomery [County] plans to train its Homeland Security officers ‘so they fully understand library policy and its consistency with residents’ First Amendment rights under the Constitution’, Romer said in his statement.”
Great. The terrorists may not have won, but the porn fetishists certainly have.