Illicit Activity in the Library – the PORN!

by Shayna Monnens, Head Editor, INALJ South Dakota

Illicit Activity in the Library – the PORN!

shaynamonnensAnd it happens…again! There is always someone, without fail, who just seems to not understand the concept of (please choose one of the choices listed: decency, privacy, common sense, propriety, FREE WI-FI IS NOT FOR PORN VIEWAGE). I honestly don’t understand why this even happens. Is it because it’s a quiet location where one is likely to not be disturbed, or perhaps the free Wi-Fi and a more secluded section of the library, or it is the allure of “ooh, I’m watching porn in a library, what a rebel I am”? Why?!

The library I work at had another shining example of this happen recently. A gentleman who had been frequenting the library was discovered viewing such material on his laptop in a carousel desk in our adult non-fiction section. This was discovered while a new employee was getting the initial tour around the library, and BAM! Walk around the corner of the paperback racks and we proceeded to get an eyeful. Granted, the gentleman in question was sitting in a more secluded area of the library with headphones on, but come on, man! There are just some things you don’t do in a library, especially where someone could see you!

I had been working at the library for only a few months when I had my first encounter with an individual viewing inappropriate content on one of the library’s computers. We do not maintain any sort of content filtering or website blocking software, so users must be at least 18 to use the internet without parental consent, and is only allowed to use the computers at age 13 with a parental slip. Anyone under the age of 13 must sit with a parent or guardian. The gentleman in question was using one of our public access computers. The set-up is done so that the computers are all facing outward, so staff walking around can keep an eye (but not monitoring!) what patrons are looking at.

This particular individual made various attempts to hide what he was viewing with the use of multiple browser windows, however, the first time staff took notice (courtesy of another patron, mind you), he was asked to close out and vacate the computer. He made no attempt to disguise what he was doing, and proceeded to leave the library, being informed that this was his first warning. It had been explained to the staff that if they had to tell him again, he would be asked to leave. Must have been my lucky day, as I had the joy of catching him a week or so later doing the exact same thing. After glancing up from my desk and seeing what he was viewing, I walked over and told him that he was watching inappropriate content in a public setting and would have to leave. He stood up and walked out, not to be seen again. While however brisk his exit was, he left me with the honor of closing his browser windows. Yay me.

I think the most disgusting part of that particular experience was that the computer he was on was one of the few that actually face the children’s section of our library. Anyone walking by to go view the picture books or go play in the kid’s section could have seen that. Anyone. You know, it’s one thing to sit and view pornographic content on your own device, backed into a corner, with headphones on. At least, no one is likely to discover what you are doing. You aren’t being a nuisance, and frankly, I don’t care what you are doing then, as long as you don’t proceed to DO anything about your viewing experience. Hey, patrons have been kicked out for masturbating in libraries before! Racine Public Library has done it, others have too. It can be traumatizing and extremely damaging to some, particularly children.

However, do my views make me sound like a bad person? Maybe, but there is no way that we can know what you are doing, nor should we have the right to. It’s very different, however, when you are out in a well-populated area of the library. If that is the case, don’t be shocked if someone catches you or reports you.

I will admit that in some very rare instances, the individual is looking at pornographic material for research purposes. Convenient excuse? Maybe. This also leads to the very fine line of what is right or wrong to view in the library. We as librarians certainly don’t want to censor what you are watching/reading/researching/etc. However, we also have to maintain an atmosphere that is welcoming to everyone. I reiterate my point: if you are going about your business and not bothering anyone else (in any form), I really don’t care what you are doing. It’s the library. Use it and our services to however best suits you. Just don’t make me have to kick you out, or even worse, call the cops!

I am always curious about what other libraries do for their policy when it comes to situations such as these. I know that some institutions monitor their computer usage, down to each and every page the patron is viewing. However, I find that intrusive and not at all beneficial to the library experience. Others implement content software and blocking programs to prevent certain pages/words/content to be viewed. I understand that with CIPA, software like this is required for schools and their libraries, however such is not the case for public libraries.

What does your library do? How do you handle these situations? I know that we are by no means the only library that is blessed with pornographic viewing patrons!

  9 comments for “Illicit Activity in the Library – the PORN!

  1. Kathy
    October 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Wow! I wish porn viewing was a once a week thing here! It’s pretty much a daily occurance at our library. We do have low-level filtering for adults (and higher levels for YAs and Children), but determined individuals will find a way around it. We had one “gentleman” who refused to stop masturbating while the cops were trying to handcuff him!

  2. Kevin
    October 27, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    In my library, we offer the patron a privacy screen if we notice that they are using one of the library’s computers to view porn. I’m not sure about what we would do if we noticed a patron watching porn on their own computer. If they were in the Children’s or Teen area, I’m sure they would be asked to move. But I do know that our Internet Policy clearly states that we do not monitor or control the content of what patrons can view. So I’m wondering what your library’s Internet Policy states about viewing pornography? To me it seems extreme to ask a patron to leave the library for viewing porn, and if it’s not clearly stated in the Internet Policy then I’m not sure how it can be justified. And, I also want to say that Internet filtering software is not a good solution because it is too flawed and too biased, especially with websites presenting LGBTQ subject matter.

  3. Rebecca
    October 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I work at a public library and have to warn someone about watching porn almost every week. I usually say, “You can’t watch that here. This is a library.” It’s uncomfortable, especially considering some of these patrons are unstable and may react badly. I also don’t want patrons to feel like I’m monitoring what they’re watching, and there are no filters on the computers here. Some of the staff will say something will others will not. Your point about the library as a “public setting” is what makes this behavior inappropriate. The computers here are in plain sight of other patrons.

  4. Crystal
    October 25, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Porn is NOT an intellectual freedom issue. We have to weigh the risk to children over the right to “read”. Well said and very timely!

  5. Sylvia Bly
    October 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Oh, this brings back memories! When I worked as a library tech student, I had to deal with this type of individual. Mind you, we even had warning via phone calls from other librarians calling ahead of him. He tried to pull the “this is not a public library, it’s a university” excuse, but we have even stricter rules about that activity than the public libraries here. He was finally asked to leave permanently. What made it doubly worse was that he was, um, of the young children fan, and he would leave that horrid stuff on the computer. Blech!

    • Q
      October 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Are you saying that you caught someone watching child pornography on a public computer and you didn’t alert the police? Watching regular pornography in a library might be distasteful, but it isn’t a crime. Consumption of child porn is and the authorities should have been notified.

      • October 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm

        She said the computer faced the children’s section, not that there was child porn on the computer.

      • Shayna
        October 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        Thanks for commenting! While the porn that the individual was watching was not child related, I can guarantee you that I would have reported him in a heartbeat. We share the same building as the city police, so it would not be difficult to call them in.

      • Kendra
        October 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm

        That was confusing because I too got the impression it was child pornography as well since he used the “it’s a university, not a public library” excuse. While I’m sure some universities have sections for children, that’s rather uncommon in my experience. Sylvia also said he was a “young children fan.”

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