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!

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