Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Everybody's suddenly talking about the Defense of Online Predators Act (DOPA). Everybody is, as usual, way behind the Annoyed Librarian, because in this crazy Library Five-O world you have to move faster than that to keep up with me. I'm currently moving at 55 MB per second, baby! That's why I came out with my criticisms of DOPA over two months ago. Still, the spectrum from Conservator and SHUSH to Librarian.net and Library Juice have been discussing the various criticisms. My favorite criticism is that DOPA will restrict access to Open Worldcat. That's about as clever as my original criticism that it might block Blogger and keep the kiddies from reading the Annoyed Librarian.

Then there's a non-librarian (?) blogger who notes that "The House of Representatives passed the DOPA bill on Friday that the American Library Association calls hard-core, full-on censorship of the public's right to information. This measure could allow the feds to shut down public access to blogs, wikis, instant messaging and the like." I'm not sure how the government is censoring anything, since these websites will still be around and probably don't care very much about libraries anyway. Does the public have a right to all information? And is there a public right to access blogs and wikis? I missed that last time I read the Constitution. Of course the concept of rights has been stretched to breaking point in America, so I suppose everyone has a right to everything all the time.

DOPA is, in my opinion, a flawed piece of legislation, but the intent behind it isn't, and that's where I disagree with the all-or-nothing approach of some librarians who seem to think we have no responsibilities to children.

SHUSH makes the excellent point that "Libraries are not entitlements, and they will be run in the way that society as a whole thinks is best, not liberal librarians or conservative ones for that matter. We don't get to interfere with people's lives, we're there to serve." Conservator points out the irony that, "Not only do we as librarians not 'get' to interfere with people's lives, though; the American Library Association has spent years informing America's parents/taxpayers that librarians are not willing and/or competent to supervise and protect the nation's children online."

But Don Wood claims that "education is the best way to protect children from online predators." Who, I wonder, is to provide this education? Educating people about how to evaluate information is standard practice in some libraries, especially libraries in high schools and universities. Perhaps the proper role for public librarians is indeed to educate their patrons about online predators.

I think the best way to do that would be for reference librarians to stand over the shoulders of minors as they use the computer and provide a running commentary on their Internet usage.

"That looks like a friendly girl, why don't you chat with her. Hmmm, it's quite possible that this person isn't really a thirteen-year-old girl from Des Moines. Why do I say that? I'm not entirely sure. There's something about the reference to 'trouser mouse' that just doesn't sit well with me. Oh, perhaps I am being a prude. No, wait, this part about wanting to meet you to 'play dollies' and 'watch NASCAR' just doesn't seem authentic to me. And I don't know for sure what 'bukkake' is, but I'm pretty sure thirteen-year-old girls in Des Moines don't either."

But I'm assuming that Don Wood doesn't mean something like this. We wouldn't want librarians educating the public about what they might find on the Internet, now would we? That would imply that we make some distinction among the various types of information. That would be DISCRIMINATION, and we librarians are the most undiscriminating people on the planet. Just look at the way we dress!

I know--it's the parents who are supposed to educate the youngsters, isn't it? Because that's what happens when important social institutions like libraries abdicate all responsibility for creating and maintaining a decent culture and instead decide to remain neutral to all values. Yes, I'm pretty sure that's it.

Well, the Annoyed Librarian knows how to educate the kiddies and their parents about online predators: don't set foot in a public library ever again and do all you can to deprive that library of your tax money; boycott the library and shut that baby down unless you want it to provide a useful place for perverts to prey on your children. Because if librarians refuse to try to keep children away from Internet porn and online predators in their libraries, and do all they can to prevent any legislation designed to do that, then what choice is there? Is this what it has to come to before librarians will begin considering responsible compromises instead of the all-or-nothing approach to this issue the ALA espouses? What if there was a boycott of public libraries? What if the all-or-nothing became just nothing?


Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

Excellent points as always. In all seriousness: Why do public libraries have Internet access at all? Why can't they be books + Nexis or some other informational database? What of educational value is on the Internet that is not available elsewhere?

If a library had a free phone, could it block long distance calls?

Library Internet access should be limited to a few minutes and done on large screens out in the open, with moderators, as you suggest, keeping an eye on everything.

There is no reason for IM or e-mail access in a library, it is a repository of knowledge, not a communications hub, not an infotainment festival.

When I was a mere Joey, me Mum would drop me at the library and leave me to wander for hours on rainy Saturdays. The worst thing I encountered was James Michner's descriptions of fertility rights in "The Source." Which was pretty darn racy when you are 12. If I recall, the National Geographics with the scarified breasts were kept in a drawer and a 12 year old deign not try to sneak a peak.

I am fortunate to live in a town where we spend millions on our library. It is a beautiful place physically and it reminds me of a (small) college library. The collection does lean to bestsellers but the ILL is awesome and gets me my requests in a day or two. There are, I think, four Internet PCs and about ten computers that link only to the catalogue. I just don't understand the fuss. Let kids use the Internet in school, with filters and no molsters except the ones the NEA protects.

Granted, I live in an affluent area where middle school kids tote Wi-Fi laptops...which, come to think of it, our library has no Wi-Fi and the broad bottomed librarian gave me a suspcious look when I inquired about it.

I would love to see a library with text only computer screens and *then* see how much time is devoted to online research.

Anonymous said...

All data are useful:

Cost of library: $7 million
Population: 20,000 (9,000 families)
Percent of population under poverty line: 1% (so again, these are not typical small town library circumstances, I suppose).--T

Annoyed Librarian said...

Frankly, I don't know what the proper response of the ALA should be, but there's been no attempt on their part to take any responsibility for what goes on in libraries. There comes a time when neutrality implies choosing a side, and I don't want the librarians siding with the perverts and child molesters. Can there be any compromise?

mdoneil said...

The proper response for the ALA is that this is a community issue as all communities have different standards. Just as a test for obscenity is a a community standard. What is disgusting perversion in one town can be an evening of fun in another.

So librarians must take their direction from the public that supports them. If it is from a library board, or from taxpayer input the librarians are not the ones to make the choice, but they are the ones to clearly explain the choices and the ramifications of each.

You see librarians work for the taxpayers. They don't get to dictate the law or policy anymore than the police officers in the same town do. They have to abide by the wishes of the taxpayers, the voters and the legislature.

Yes, thank you I am enjoying my fantasy world by thinking the ALA would say something like that. It will more likely be a great commotion and screaming that the sky is falling henny penny.