The Chicago Public Library protects the open and rampant use of Internet pornography by library patrons. This blog is an attempt to bring awareness to this issue and enact change.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Top Ten Reasons To Remove Porn From Our Public Libraries

#10 - No one expects to have open access to pornography in Public Libraries.
People don't expect to have free and unfettered access to Internet pornography in public spaces. In fact, most people are surprised that this is the case, especially in Public Libraries.

#9 - It's possible.
Other libraries have successfully implemented policies to prevent the open use of pornography. For example, at Naticks' Morse Institute Public Library near Boston, patrons must click "I agree" to the library's Internet use policy before going online. There is no porn allowed. As the library director, Paula Polk said "If we see you, we ask you to leave. After the second time, people lose Internet privileges".

#8 - Privacy screens have not been working.
Counter to the claims that Assistant Commissioner, Greta Bever, made when I spoke with her, the privacy screens on the monitors of all the computers did not prevent by-standers from accidentally seeing everything on their screen. It only prevented someone from seeing their screen in very specific ranges. If the privacy screens are supposed to be the answer, they need to be drastically improved.

#7 - Rampant porn use contributes to a pornified culture.
Having porn openly accepted, especially in the Public Library, sends the wrong message. Without going too far on the topic, open and frequent use of porn enforces negative behaviors and attitudes.

#6 - Not everyone wants to see it.
Pornography is controversial and some people find it offensive, especially in public places. People shouldn't HAVE to be in an environment that is openly dismissive of their objections to being in such an environment.

#5 - Pornography fosters behaviors inappropriate for public display.
Incidences of public exposure and self-fondling are much more likely when pornography is in use. In some cases when a non-offender complains to the librarian on staff, nothing is done. The patron will then have to call the police on their own. If the police don't show up until after the offending patron has left, then the offender is protected by The Illinois Library Records Confidentiality Act. Believe it or not, the library will not work with police and provide library records unless they have the proper paperwork, which can take 2 days or more to process.

#4 - Safety.
While reports of violence and sexual misconduct has not been proven to be directly linked to the use of Internet porn in Public Libraries, Registered Sex Offenders have been caught repeatedly at Public Libraries across the Nation. Naperville is actively trying to ban Registered Sex Offenders from their Public Libraries as a result.
Also, CBS2 News has reported a 4-yr old girl being fondled in the children's section and an 8 yr-old girl being attacked in a bathroom of the Harold Washington branch in an attempted rape. The 8-yr old almost died.

#3 - Environment.
If the Public Library will not take the necessary steps to ensure an environment free of these images for those that don't want to be exposed to them, then the patrons that don't want to see it will not visit the library. The only exception will be those that do not have computer access any other way. Shouldn't a poor single mother have the right to take her children to the library to check email and pay bills without worrying what might happen to her children while she's away on the "adults only floor" and without being exposed to the lewd environment and barraged by pornographic images?
Even if that thought isn't convincing, the progression of pornography users being the majority in the computer facilities, similar to what's happening in Dallas, should.

Also, what about the environment for the librarians? A group of librarians in Minneapolis just sued because there were being subjected to a hostile work environment. They won. Here's some information on that case:

#2 - Children.
The Harold Washington Library has implemented measures to keep children away from the adult computer working area. The children have their own computer area and those computers have filters for the Internet.
However, the Security Guards told us that if a person looks 15-16, they might ask for ID. As a result, if you have an older looking teen, even if you have filters or firewalls on your home machine - your child can just go the library and watch anything they can pull up on the screen, even bestiality.

Also, there's an argument that if kids want to view pornography, they will. If it's not the Public Library, they'll get it somewhere else. This is horrible logic. It might be that kids will find a way to view pornography even if it is banned from Public Libraries, but that's no reason to make pornography easily accessible to them. If our kids want to smoke cigarettes or try drugs, they'll find a way to do that too, but that doesn't mean that we should supply them with either.

#1 - Obscenity is NOT speech.
I love the First Amendment. I think it's very important to our way of life. I appreciate that it provides everyone with Free Speech. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that obscenity is NOT speech. This is thoroughly covered here.

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Throughout the phone conversation I had with Asst Library Commissioner, Bever, she was aggressive in her discussion and used classic verbal intimidation tactics of raising her voice and deliberately interrupting me and speaking over me. This was similar to the Security Guard telling us that the Commissioner is involved "with several law firms", implying legal power. Why do I feel like the bad guy here? All I want is for someone to listen to me and help me come up with a workable solution to this issue.
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Calling Asst Commissioner Greta Bever

I called the Library Commissioner, Mary Dempsey, today in an attempt to discuss the matter and relay my concerns with this issue. As soon as I explained why I was calling, I was transferred to Assistant Commissioner, Greta Bever.

To say the least, my conversation with Asst. Commissioner Bever was disappointing. Before she would listen to my concern, she told me that no one is "poking me in the eye" in order to force me to watch these images. (According to Bever, if someone is forcing me to see what is on their screen, then it can be considered sexual harassment - but not until then.) She also said that they are more likely to throw someone out of the library for walking through the aisles and looking at what others are watching, implying that I was purposely invading the privacy of fellow patrons. She also confirmed that as a fellow patron, I am NOT allowed to tell someone that their behavior is offensive to me. (ie, NO politely tapping of the shoulder and asking someone to turn it off.)

I explained that I was not only doing my best to avoid the images I was being bombarded with in spite of privacy screens, but that I also believe in the privacy of those around me and I believe that I should be able to visit the library without being so openly subjected to those images. She insisted that the privacy screens on the computers were sufficient.

Bever pointed out that people can read books with offensive material and suggested that the use of the Internet is no different. I agreed that Freedom of Speech is important and people should be allowed to read books without facing scrutiny. However, the general public is not forced to read the book with them. When several patrons are watching porn in a public sphere, all those around are subject to it.

I told her that this issue makes me want to avoid the library. Bever referenced a sitting area that is not around those computers and suggested that I wait in that area for my work terminal to open if I'm not comfortable being in the general computer work area.

Lastly, when I told Bever that I understand her position but disagree with it, Bever responded that this is a National issue and the decision to avoid censorship of public library Internet resources is an overlying policy by the ALA (American Library Association), which led me to believe that she was absolving herself and the CPL of responsibility.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

This is NOT an environment that I want to live, work or BE in.

I found this wonderful comment online regarding the privacy of using public computers.
What people do in private is indeed none of my business, but what people do in public is my business, because I share that public sphere. There is no privacy in a public place. A public library is a public place. Using public computers is not a private act.

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CNN Article

In a CNN article here,, they cover a decision by the Supreme Court to use computer filters in public libraries.

We don't want to keep people from getting information that they need. And we're not trying to regulate what people do in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, but this is something entirely different. This is open and public use of obscene materials. But somehow it's supposed to be okay because it's in the library. A place that until now, I have considered synonymous with learning and safety.
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The First Amendment

Here's what Wikipedia had to say about First Amendment rights regarding obscenity:


The federal government and the states have long been permitted to restrict obscenity or pornography. While obscenity generally has no protection under the First Amendment, pornography is subject to little regulation. The exact definition of obscenity and pornography, however, has changed over time.

When it decided Rosen v. United States in 1896, the Supreme Court adopted the same obscenity standard as had been articulated in a famous British case, Regina v. Hicklin. The Hicklin standard defined material as obscene if it tended "to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall." The Court ruled in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957) that the Hicklin test was inappropriate. Instead, the Roth test for obscenity was "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest."

Justice Potter Stewart, in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), famously stated that, although he could not precisely define pornography, "I know it when I see it."

The Roth test was expanded when the Court decided Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). Under the Miller test, a work is obscene if it would be found appealing to the prurient interest by an average person applying contemporary community standards, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Note that "community" standards—not national standards—are applied whether the material appeals to the prurient interest; thus, material may be deemed obscene in one locality but not in another. National standards, however, are applied whether the material is of value. Child pornography is not subject to the Miller test, as the Supreme Court decided in New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982). The Court thought that the government's interest in protecting children from abuse was paramount.

Yet, personal possession of obscene material in the home may not be prohibited by law. In writing for the Court in the case of Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1964), Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, "if the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man sitting in his own house what books he may read or what films he may watch." It is not, however, unconstitutional for the government to prevent the mailing or sale of obscene items, though they may be viewed only in private. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002) further upheld these rights by invalidating the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, holding that, because the act "[p]rohibit[ed] child pornography that does not depict an actual child..." it was overly broad and unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: "First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought."

In United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. ___ (2008), by a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court upheld the PROTECT Act of 2003. The Court held that prohibiting offers to provide and requests to obtain child pornography did not violate the First Amendment, even if a person charged under the Act did not possess child pornography.[3]

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