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Library Porn, First Amendment, What to do? - The LAMP

Library Porn, First Amendment, What to do?

By May 25, 2008 News No Comments

The buzz around the neighborhood here in Brooklyn lately has been about patrons of the the local branches of the Brooklyn Public Library visiting porn sites on the library computers.  No doubt this isn’t the only place where wrangling of the issues is happening.

The issues in our local discussion have run the gamut from the importance of access to information for all, to how can we shield young children from seeing this in the library?, to why don’t the pervs (term used in local parents discussion list) do this at home?, to why should only those who can afford a computer at home be able to access porn, while those who can’t afford one be denied access to it?, to watching porn leads to masturbation in public and/or to rape, which allegedly occurred in one library branch, according to someone from www.SafeLibraries.org, who was interviewed in a story published this week in the Brooklyn Paper (www.BrooklynPaper.com).

Wow, and that’s only a sampling of the issues that comes up.  There’s more.  What about accessing controversial information in a public place that receives government funds?  Where do you draw the line when vulnerable groups (children) could be harmed?  Who gets to decide?  What about free speech and freedom of the press?  All of these questions have been raised in the past with regard to hate speech.  So far, unless a direct link between the speech act and a harmful (i.e. illegal) behavior can be proven in a court of law, the speech must be protected.

Hard to swallow?  Well, that doesn’t mean, in this particular case, that children in libraries must be forced to view porn.  Actions can be taken to sequester computer terminals in such a way as to make them hidden from view.  And underage youth can be (and are) monitored closely by library staff when on the computers.  All good ideas, and great compromises.

I hate to use the cliche “slippery slope,: but that’s just what you’re on when designated deciders start deciding which speech acts in which venues to protect and which to bar altogether.  We’ve got a Patriot Act that closely monitors us now; we’ve got a sometimes much too cozy relationship between the press and government which leads too often to prior restraint.  We need to maintain our freedoms as much as we can as often as we can.  Thank goodness we have media forums that allow us to get the discussions going and keep them going, even if we don’t agree with each other.

Don’t like porn?  Hate the use of women in many of the images and narratives?  I don’t blame you one bit.  I’d much rather talk and write about what I don’t like out there than call for censorship.  I do it already with my two very young children.  I think they appreciate it.

Katherine