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Tuesday, February 03, 2004



No smut on my watch, mister!
And keep both hands on the keyboard, please.

The screens of the public internet computers at my branch are in my line of vision when I sit at the reference desk. We're supposed to keep an eye on them to make sure that people don’t try to sneak and restart the 15 minute express computer, which automatically shuts off when the user’s 15 minutes are up, signaling that that person’s turn is over and it’s time to let the next person in line on.
Today when I glanced over at the computers I did a doubletake, because there was a seemingly normal looking young man kicked back, hangin' 10 on an exceptionally filthy pornsite. He had a dreamy, limbic smile, and was actively perusing the site without any apparent shame or embarassment, as open about it as he could be, unfazed by the heavy foot traffic in front of the computer.
My library system does not use filters (which don't work anyway) but we haven’t really needed them at my branch because the computer screens are so public. Even if people don't have a sense of decency, they do have a sense of shame, and that maintains propriety far more effectively than any filter, which are generally clumsy and easy for the porn peddlers (who are fiendishly clever) to outsmart. Our official policy is that if someone (employee or patron) complains that the images are making them uncomfortable then the surfer has to stop. We then can tell the surfer that there are computers at the main library that are a little more private. I enjoy passing the buck to the Main, because I'm pettily resentful that they get to have full time security.
My manager had a little talk with the surfer and he agreed to cruise more family friendly sites.

I do believe it is a mission of the library to bridge the digital divide, and I realize that not everyone can afford to have internet access in the privacy of his or her own home.
Even if access to technology is not equitable, I don’t think you have the right to surf porn at the library, and if that makes me the priggish, sexless functionary stereotype that haunts the librarian image then so be it.

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