Friday, September 21, 2007

The ALA's First Amendment

I know, it's a day of plenty on the AL. I meant to post that intellectual freedom piece yesterday, and I just couldn't resist this story.

Via LIS News I read an article about a pervert arrested after he was caught masturbating in a public library. From the article:

"It's the library's policy to dismiss someone from the library if a person creates a disturbance, or if a complaint is made.

[Library Director] Hentz said patrons can't be removed simply for looking at adult pornography in the library. She said that would violate First Amendment rights."

I doubted the truth of that statement. My initial reaction was to think Hentz was just an idiot who hadn't actually read the Constitution. Shows what I know. Here's the text of the First Amendment, pulled straight from the copy on Hentz's desk:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and view publicly subsidized pornography in their local library."

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

A letter to the editor in today's Denver Post (9/21/07)

Porn on library PCs

Last Friday, my wife was in the periodicals section of the Denver Central Library. She was looking for a computer to do some school work on, but they were all in use. As she walked around, she noticed three different men surfing pornography sites. She was a little put off, being that she really needed to use a computer, so she complained to the librarian. The response she received was that the library is a public space and they won't do anything about it because of freedom of speech (even though this has nothing to do with speech).

Now, I believe people have the right and freedom to view pornography. On the other hand, I am not so sure viewing pornography should be done at the public library. If my wife could see what these men were looking at, then what stops a child from seeing the same thing? So, I wonder, how far does our public library take this stance? Do we not have laws against public indecency? Where do we draw the line?

Steven Sharp, Denver

Anonymous said...

If you're going to allow pornography to be viewed on a computer in a public library then you should also positively include pornography materials in your collection development policy.

Anonymous said...

"Now, I believe people have the right and freedom to view pornography. On the other hand, I am not so sure viewing pornography should be done at the public library."

Indeed.

Private morality v. public morality. Private behavior v. public behavior.

Anonymous said...

[Library Director] Hentz said patrons can't be removed simply for looking at adult pornography in the library. She said that would violate First Amendment rights.

But what if a patron or employee files a lawsuit charging sexual harassment (threatening workplace or whatever)? Or someone's kids getting exposed to it?

Anonymous said...

If you're going to allow pornography to be viewed on a computer in a public library then you should also positively include pornography materials in your collection development policy.

.....and you can imagine the types of reference questions you'd be facing after that.

Anonymous said...

The Constitutional amendment seems a bit like the pigs re-painting the Seven Commandments.

--Taupey

Anonymous said...

These childish recitations about the first amendment are so tiresome. Any community can still ban public displays that are pornographic, and the standard is local, so a small town has an broader right than NY or LA.

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.

This has nothing to do with possessing pornography or the defeat of the online child porn protection act a few years ago. Those relate the broader topic of what one is able to possess in private.

Enough already, [Library Director] Hentz, you are simply exposing your ignorance and foolishness.

Anonymous said...

re anonymous @1:20 PM:

"But what if a patron or employee files a lawsuit charging sexual harassment (threatening workplace or whatever)?"

Didn't a group of librarians somewhere in the Midwest file suit claiming that allowing users to view porn constituted a "hostile work environment"? Anyone else remember that, or know what happened to the suit?

Anonymous said...

I've never understood why I can't take off all my clothing and stand arms akimbo showing my physique to anyone who cares to look in the library, but perverts can look at pictures of that in a public computer room.

At least my nudity would be 'expression' perhaps even speech. Not just dirty picture at which autoeroticists stare while pleasuring themselves.

mdoneil

Anonymous said...

"If you're going to allow pornography to be viewed on a computer in a public library then you should also positively include pornography materials in your collection development policy."

You are exactly right. Censorship is inherent in collection development. There is a reason why Hustler and other hardcore pornographic magazines aren't part of collections. There is no reason why patrons should be able to view porn at the public library.

Here is an article on employees at the Minneapolis Public Library. Someone mentioned it above. A number of employees sued for sexual harassment.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200209/ai_n9088077

I left public librarianship over a month ago for good, and I have never been happier. In my new position, I don't deal with the public at all. It's fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Here is the full link.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200209/ai_n9088077

Anonymous said...

Back when I was in public service, I argued that we should get an Adult Entertainment License. Now they've moved me behind the scenes.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Awhile back when I had friends working in the small independent bookshop sector bank managers' advice was always that they should stock porn mags to ensure profit turnover.

Taking this on board I suggested that we should do similar in our library, protecting the tiny tots by screening that corner of the shelving with a beaded curtain. To save embarassment to staff and customers both we would present this stock sealed under plain wrapper. It struck me that this would be a splendid way of getting a few last issues out of the tired old romances before they went into the booksale. Should a borrower complain about the contents the script would go like:

"This steamy porn I borrowed yesterday is a Barbara Cartland novel."

"Egad! Some swine has pinched our book and substituted a ringer. It's a pity that: the scene with the schoolgirl and the stick of celery was particularly steamy."

Sadly my management team weren't enthused by this idea.

Tim said...

I think that it would be wise to talk about life in terms of movie ratings. Usually we conduct ourselves in a PG world. Sometimes we can go and do things that are rated more adult, but are typical day is spent PG.

In a PG world, if I stub my toe and swear... it is ok, but if I swear indiscriminately... it is not acceptable.

When I walk to work, I could access porn at many stores, but I don't find that I am compelled to do so.

When visiting a local library, I could have porn in my briefcase. That is my own business. If I open my briefcase and start reading it then I have moved beyond our PG norms. It is inappropriate.

It may be my right to access porn on the computer, but it is inappropriate in our PG world to do so at the library. If the library is a XXX shop then that is different.

If in my surfing, I hit a NSFW site and move on... that's what happens in a PG world. If I stay then I am being inappropriate.

Just some thoughts.

j- said...

*I've never understood why I can't take off all my clothing and stand arms akimbo showing my physique to anyone who cares to look in the library, but perverts can look at pictures of that in a public computer room. *

Actually, what most of these freaks are looking at, you'd need a partner to replicate.

Of course, you'd be arrested for that, too, but not for looking at it on a screen.

Crazy world.

Leo Klein said...

You know, these things aren't as straight forward as you think.

The library manager thinks if people create a disturbance, they ought to be hussled out.

No one would argue with that.

But if you want people hussled out because they're looking at porn, who's sposed to define what 'porn' is?

The library manager?

How 'bout if the library manager came to your library, AL, and started telling you what kind of sites you could look up or not?

The problem with putting bans on "legal" content, and I emphasize the word "legal", is that we alway imagine the person going thumbs-up and thumbs-down is some rational reasonable individual sharing the same good sense as you.

In reality, it's far more likely to be some awful bureaucrat who collects your property tax and who you wouldn't trust with the time of day -- let alone what you should be seeing on a public library computer.

So again, if you're upset about that Library Manager, just remember: you'd be far more upset if it was she picking the winners and losers on what you could see on the web.

Everybody has an opinion on what's porn and what's not. That's not the issue.

It's whether you want someon

Leo Klein said...

Sorry, scratch the "Everybody has an opinion on what's porn and what's not. That's not the issue.

It's whether you want someon...
"

Anonymous said...

Leo Klein trots out that old red herring, "Everybody has an opinion on what's porn and what's not."

No, most everyone knows what porn is, and knows the difference between pornography, nudity, bikini models, etc.... Just like most everyone knows the Earth is flat, but perhaps not every last one of us knows that. Who cares, we still know the Earth is flat.

Mariah Carey running along the beach and losing, say, her sweatshirt = NOT porn

Someone filming himself stuffing his Johnson up his neighbor's dirtpipe = PORN.

Pretty simple, actually.

Anonymous said...

Leo Klein trots out that old red herring, "Everybody has an opinion on what's porn and what's not."

No, most everyone knows what porn is, and knows the difference between pornography, nudity, bikini models, etc.... Just like most everyone knows the Earth is ROUND, but perhaps not every last one of us knows that. Who cares, we still know the Earth is ROUND.

Mariah Carey running along the beach and losing, say, her sweatshirt = NOT porn

Someone filming himself stuffing his Johnson up his neighbor's dirtpipe = PORN.

Pretty simple, actually.

Barbara said...

I get frustrated when librarians mock their own values by saying "it's impossible for me to take a stand because perhaps someone else would see it differently and I surely wouldn't want to assert myself and make a judgment call because I'm not supposed to do that as a librarian" - ah, baloney.

Obscene speech is not protected by the constitution. If you want to protect speech, one way to do it is to stop pretending you can't take any reasoned stance on what is protected and what isn't.

When we make ourselves look stupid, we're not supporting the first amendment. We're making it easier for people to say librarians are lunatics and their values are just stupid. And they get really picky over not returning books and stuff, too.

Let's exercise some judgment! It's not that hard to say "that stuff you're looking at? We don't let you do that here." And would it be so hard to write a user policy that says "Viewing of obscene material is a violation of our computer use policy; the library staff reserves the right to revoke the use of a computer if, in their estimation, this policy is violated"?

And yes, I would trust library workers with that call and not assume they couldn't exercise that bit of authority responsibly.

But refusing to exercise any responsibility leads to citizens being justifiably mystified by what librarians believe.

Leo Klein said...

Anonymous@9:28PM said..

Leo Klein trots out that old red herring, "Everybody has an opinion on what's porn and what's not."

Actually the "old red herring" is assuming they'll censor the things exactly how you think they ought to. History has shown time and time again, that this is not true.

But don't believe me, ask Pearl Jam.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud at the reference desk upon reading the last line of your post:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;....or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and view publicly subsidized pornography in their local library."

Love it, thanks.

RCN, SF Bay Area, California

Anonymous said...

Leo Klein says, "Actually the "old red herring" is assuming they'll censor the things exactly how you think they ought to. History has shown time and time again, that this is not true."

As a librarian, I'm not (and would not) ask anyone to censor anything for me. I'm not advocating software filters in this context.

What I am saying is that the viewing of pornography in public libraries (or any public venue) is, on its face, absurd. And so if a public library decides that the viewing of hardcore pornography is not allowed, then librarians should be free and, indeed, required to throw violators of that policy out. There is no constitutional issue, and librarians shouldn't be so cowardly as to try to invent one so as to free them of their professional and community responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Actually the "old red herring" is assuming they'll censor the things exactly how you think they ought to. History has shown time and time again, that this is not true.

Oh give me a break will ya, Guardian of Freedom Truth And Enlightenment? It's using reasonable standards of what people are viewing on the computers in public view of other patrons.

As AL has brought up a few times if the "freedom of speech" of patrons involves watching Christy Canyon getting a go-go with Peter North then why not let them have private viewing booths?

If the library can decide not to keep X-rated videos in their collections, what is the issue with limiting what x-rated material that patrons are viewing in a public area?

There's a world of difference between restricting what patrons are doing for ENTERTAINMENT and trembling at how we're on the slippery slope to gawd-forbid horrible censorship of all free things.

If we're going to condone this, why not also load up networked games? It's also entertainment, and it would sure be a draw in the library knowing you could play Battlefield 1942 while the other patrons stand in line.

Anonymous said...

Christy Canyon? Peter North?

You must be over 50 years old. Try something a little modern, something 2.0, like Eva Angelina or Nautica Thorn.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Some librarians sure do know their porn stars.

Leo Klein said...

anon @ 5:20PM:

"What I am saying is that the viewing of pornography in public libraries (or any public venue) is, on its face, absurd."

Why should it matter what anybody is looking at on a computer screen -- so long as the content is legal?

I can think of at least a half million topics that people would find "absurd" -- many of them involving people not taking off their clothes.

We're really setting the bar low if some time-serving hack with not enough to do, suddenly comes up to you and reads you the riot act because he or she doesn't agree with your surfing habits.

----------

Anon @ 7:02PM:

"If the library can decide not to keep X-rated videos in their collections, what is the issue with limiting what x-rated material that patrons are viewing in a public area?"

"X-rated material". Who's doing the rating?

In any case, it's more like ripping out pictures and articles from a subscription you already have.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see how many people would actually fight to have the right to view porn at a library? Most ppl who are busted at my library are pretty embarrassed that they got caught. I can't imagine ANY of them fighting it in court or making a stink about it. I'm going to guess that the majority of tax payers would not approve of porn viewing in a public setting, like the library.

j- said...

*I can think of at least a half million topics that people would find "absurd" -- many of them involving people not taking off their clothes.

We're really setting the bar low if some time-serving hack with not enough to do, suddenly comes up to you and reads you the riot act because he or she doesn't agree with your surfing habits.*

Mr. Klein seems to be a moral equivocator of the worst sort--and a poor constructor of argument, seeing as how he conflates political speech by a second-rate grunge band with hardcore porn.

Regardless, perhaps public librarians ought to look at this from a more existential point of view, i.e., the more their existence is threatened by other developments, perhaps it is not wise to alienate all of the users who don't want to be exposed to smut nor want their children exposed to smut. Soon the only people who will use public libraries will be porn addicts who enjoy self-manipulation in public. Nice workplace these librarians are slowly constructing for themselves.

Honestly, what's wrong with this country? Used to be if you wanted this crap everyone knew where to get it and it came in a tasteful brown wrapper.

Leo Klein said...

j said:

Mr. Klein seems to be a moral equivocator of the worst sort--and a poor constructor of argument, seeing as how he conflates political speech by a second-rate grunge band with hardcore porn.

The problem are the people who assume for some reason that prohibitions on content always cut the way they imagine.

Again, what you consider perfectly legitimate content, another might consider "inappropriate" or even "indecent".

The "moral equivocation" comes in assuming your own universe of acceptable content will remain untouched.

That's a bit more faith in the restraint of the censors than I'm willing to give them.

librarianrex said...

I'm just a library student so I probably don't know what I'm talking about but if the libraries can't/won't ban porn can't they just put privacy screens on the computer so only its current user can see the monitor?

Wouldn't that protect everyone's rights?