Librarians Are Continuing To Defend Open Access To The Web As A Public Service

from the not-all-porn-is-porn dept

Librarians have built up quite a reputation for activism in all the right ways. Whether taking a stand against DRM, expanding libraries’ catalogs to include new digital media and art, or embracing indie authors, librarians come off as much more of a hip crowd than you might expect. These stances occasionally put them at odds with some in the community that they serve, perhaps most notably with parents who have pushed for restrictions on internet access within libraries. It gets all the more unfortunate when a subsection of the citizenry sees fit to ramp up the rhetoric against an institution simply attempting to serve the greatest public good. This typically, unfortunately, devolves into the supposed accusation of librarians “defending” the right for visitors to view “pornography.”

Take the Orland Park Public Library, a community library in a suburb southwest of Chicago. Last year, self-identified conservative homeschooling mom Megan Fox launched a campaign to get the library to install filters on its computers after she claims to have seen a man looking at pornography in the library’s adult-only computer lab (the library has a separate, filtered computer lab for children). The library board voted on the issue and decided not to install filters, but to require identification for anyone logging on.

Not satisfied, Fox and her supporters continued to hound the board, often resulting in police being called to heated meetings. She filed so many FOIA requests that the library has had to dedicate two full-time employees to respond to them. She accused the library of covering up an incident of someone looking at child pornography, and she forced a re-vote on the issue by having the Public Access Bureau declare a board meeting illegal because it was held on Lincoln’s birthday.

If all of that sounds to you like a big bucket of crazy, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the librarians in this case are steadfastly refusing to back down. That isn’t always what happens. And, look, there’s nothing wrong with being conservative, having a specific set of values, and all the rest. What you can’t do, however, is insist that public institutions follow your personal views just because. That isn’t how secular government works.

And, of course, the entire point of the stance by librarians in cases like this is that all of this comes down to definitions and scope. Define, they challenge, “pornography,” and “I know it when I see it” doesn’t work as an answer. Define what should be filtered. Outline a scope of internet filtering on adult only computers that will filter out what we all universally accept to be pornography, but won’t block any educational information, keeping in mind that free and open access to information and literature is the entire point of libraries. When you think of it like that, all this porn-blocking doesn’t sound so simple. What’s porn to a nun may not be to a commercial banker. Whose definition do you use? And why? And what do you tell the person who isn’t getting their way? Too bad, but some lady named Megan Fox agrees with us?

We have to be more grown up than that, something librarians have been pushing for a long, long time.

Libraries have been advocates for a right to access information long before the digital age. Book banning and burning has been a national pastime for various sections of the population for decades, and libraries have always stood in the face of that, advocating in the belief that people have a right to read, learn, and access everything the world has to offer.

“There have always been disputes over whether we should have sex manuals or books about creating bombs. There have always been those kinds of conflicts and librarians have tried to put out guidelines to have the most open access possible,” said Michael Zimmer, a privacy and internet ethics expert who runs the Center for Information Policy Rese?arch at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Add to that the burden that a more restrictive blocking policy puts on the less-well-off in this country and we’re beginning, again, to lose sight of the entire point of libraries. Let’s give an example. Let’s say that we have a very poor young woman who has recently found out she’s pregnant. Perhaps due to a lack of education, she is unsure of what to expect during her pregnancy and what giving birth will be like, what she should and should not be eating, etc. So she goes to the library computer section, but finds that the pages she’s trying to look up have been blocked because they contain medical pictures of naughty-bits or keywords that trigger the filter. So what does she do? I’m not sure, but she may not be able to do what a suburbanite housewife can do and look this stuff up on her own high-speed internet service at home. See the problem?

And it isn’t just medically relevant information that can be unfairly blocked.

The ALA published a rep?ort investigating the use of filters and found they were disproportionately blocking out left-leaning views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. LGBT community websites were often blocked and identified as “sexual” sites.

And whatever your feelings on LGBT issues and communities, you simply can’t endorse a system in which a public commodity locks out access to sites of interest to sections of the public based on the sensibilities of other members of that public. That just isn’t how this works. So, when somebody cries about seeing someone viewing pornography at a local library, a different image pops up into each one of our minds, and none of them may be remotely close to what she saw.

That’s why librarians stand against filtering internet access in this manner. It’s for all of us and we really should be standing with them.

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Comments on “Librarians Are Continuing To Defend Open Access To The Web As A Public Service”

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53 Comments

Thank you.

Thank you for your support. We fight hard against censorship, for government transparency, against overbearing copyright, &c., so you can understand why I like Techdirt. (I’d love to see one of the Techdirt regulars on a panel at ALA Annual some year, but that sort of programming isn’t my strong suit.) And we’re usually pointing out these problems years before anyone else gets on board; during what was being called “the Summer of Snowden,” ALA Annual hosted a well-attended panel titled “WE TOLD YOU SO.” (We did one on filtering the same year: “Access denied!“)

Of course, librarianship’s dirty secret is that we didn’t really get this liberal and libertarian until circa the ’60s. For example, we spent the early part of the 20th century fighting with teachers and the newly-minted child psychologists over which profession was best suited to decide which books were appropriate for children, and not in a good way. But today? Libraries are the most anti-government government agencies around.

I’m proud to call myself a Radical Militant Librarian (to quote the FBI and many, many librarians thereafter). Allies are always welcome.

Rich Kulawiecsays:

Re: Thank you.

Librarians are some of the front-line troops in the war to preserve and provide not only information, but literature, art, music and the rest of our planetary culture. And it is a “war”, I think: there are always those who want to suppress that with which they don’t agree, that which they deem “subversive”, that which makes them uncomfortable — and they’re willing to do anything to further that goal. (As we see with this full-blown batshit crazy moron in the Chicago ‘burbs.)

It’s easy to classify incidents like this as one-off aberrations, to suggest giving in simply to make the problem go away. But it’s important not to. The reasons why are numerous, but I think the best one was given nearly two centuries ago:

Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.

(“Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.” Heinrich Heine in his play “Almansor”, 1820-1821)

Rock on, librarians. Rock on.

M. Alan Thomas IIsays:

Re: Re: Thank you.

Oh yeah, tons. The phrase was coined in an FBI email obtained by the New York Times via FOIA request, and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) rushed through an order of buttons for the then-upcoming ALA Midwinter conference. I am told that it was the fastest selling piece of merch in their history.

There’s no IP encumbering the phrase, so there’s lot of merch out there these days. I personally own a Guild of Radical Militant Librarians shirt (“Scimus quae legis, et non dicimus”) as well as the similarly-themed Intellectual Freedom Fighter messenger bag and somewhat less-related Libr(A)rian (anarchist librarian) tote bag. (The latter two are available as various other types of merch as well.)

Anonymoussays:

I have many things to thank librarians for. Maybe not today because the little town I live in has one but it’s not much of one.

But I remember as a kid, I learned mainly to read in comic books. After that I sort of graduated into novels. My source was the local library. I don’t believe what I read as a boy would have been much interest to book burners or those hollering sex in some manner. At the time for me it was the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and things like learning how to tie various knots, among others. Not exactly the fare of some budding young terrorist or the like.

My point is without access to a public library I feel I would have had a much poorer education. Not in the formal sense but rather in learning as a young man how some of the world outside worked.

All I can do is say thank you and those of your profession for doing what is the right thing. I hate what we’ve become today that even what we chose to read could be of interest to some government agency.

Captive Audiencesays:

Re: Censoring Children's Books

Books written by Judy Blume have been removed from libraries. Imo they are age appropriate so they cover topics that are relevant to young people such as bullying, menstruation and sometimes sex. Parents would like to believe that their children will not think about sex until the day they say “I do” but unfortunately they way you wish things were and reality are often not the same. No need to worry about banning age-appropriate books by Judy Blume. Kids would never consider taking those questions to yahoo answers where questions like that recieve plenty of answers. Too bad most of those answers are completely inaccurate.

Andyroosays:

ffs

If this fo bitch gets away with what she is trying to do then i should be allowed with one request to ban everything she has ever written and anything that is conservative that call for blocking me from accessing what i want.

i thought conservatism was about not allowing anyone to stop you doing what you want, and this woman if you can call her that is trying to stop me accessing what i want, therefore i should have the right to stop her accession anything i do not like , The internet should not be accessible by anyone that dislikes free speech and free access to content, something conservatives are supposed to support.

Sorry ranting but i am sick to death of these supposedly do gooders that are doing nothing other than trying to force their views onto me, and that is a basic concept of communisum.

KRAsays:

Go librarians

The words freedom fighters and patriots have been warped so much over the last decade or so that I’m not sure they’re taken as compliments anymore, but that’s how they’re meant here.

I LOVE librarians.

If you need donations for legal bills, please put up a link. I’d be honored to be a small part of your cause.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: This Megan Fox?

As a volunteer at the field museum and someone who grew up in Orland Park. That is in fact the same Megan Fox.

Not sure what in the article give you an impression of her race. But she’s white.

There are also videos on youtube she has posted doing similar rants in front of the Orland Park Library.

lofiloversays:

Re: Re: This Megan Fox?

yeah, no, she’s white- if you google “orland park megan fox”, you will see many helpful pictures. I really have no idea where your weird assumption came from, but let this serve as a reminder not to automatically conflate race with other demographic qualifiers. are there many black people who identify as conservative christians? yes. does that mean it is worth assuming that most conservative christians are black? no.

Godsays:

megan fox is a smelly douchebag

megan fox is a creationist. That alone should tell you she’s an ignorant fuck with her head up her ass. Imagine waking up to this annoying cunt everyday I think I’d rather be in Dick Cheneys torture camp. She’s incapable of understanding science due to having a pea brain and probably has a vagina that smells like rotting fish left outside for a week in the hot sun.

NoahVailsays:

Imagine sitting in a full public Library computer room next to a frequent visitor who rarely bathes or who bathes in cologne.
Patrons are having difficulty tuning out his odor. Maybe you wish the library had a rule against overly aromatic visitors.

Look there’s nothing wrong if you’re hygienic and have a specific set of cleaning rituals.
What you can’t do, however, is insist that public institutions follow your personal views just because.

Our guy may be offensive smelling to a germaphobe but not to a construction worker.
Whose definition of acceptable odor do you use? And why?
And what do you tell the person who isn’t getting their way? Too bad, but some fragrance-free, regular bather agrees with us?

We have to be more grown up than that.

summary:
The cleverly concealed point of my post is that public porners and filter queens are both examples of nitwits who lack empathy and consideration for the folks around them.

We tend to keep quiet about inappropriate behavior until it becomes safely outrageous.
Maybe if we interacted with nitwits earlier, the folks running things would have fewer impossible situations to deal with.

M. Alan Thomas IIsays:

Re:

There are some libraries with odor policies. Some of those are blatant attempts to make it impossible for the homeless to use the library, which is absurd, because how else are they going to get job training and apply for jobs online? But most places the line is drawn at “the smell is making it hard for other patrons to use the library.” It takes a serious odor to cross that line, and it will always be a judgement call, but the point is that we can’t let one patron interfere with another’s right to use the library . . . even if that sometimes sets up impossible double-binds.

Of course, not letting one patron interfere with another goes for all the “moral guardians,” too, which is why we fight them. Even the porn people can be a problem if they insist on doing it at a workstation that others can’t avoid viewing as they pass by, especially if there’s no good way of keeping kids out of the area; that’s why porn is often restricted* to a few computers that are in a position where no-one can accidentally see what’s on the screens.

*Preferably by policy, not filters.

M. Alan Thomas IIsays:

Re: Re: Re:

For many people, yes, there are very limited options. I can’t say with certainty exactly how many people are limited to exactly 1 “option,” but I think that helping other people is important and we should make it as available as possible, not dismiss all but a single service. Library usage statistics show a spike in both general demand and employment-related requests every time there’s a recession, so we have hard evidence that libraries are a place that people turn to for help.

Of course, you’re right that libraries aren’t the only things standing between free society and totalitarianism, between democracy and autocracy. That doesn’t mean that they’re entire irrelevant, though. For example, John Adams wrote on libraries and democracy in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. FDR talked about it, too, although he’s obviously more divisive. Still, it does say something about our nation’s belief in libraries and democracy that, during the occupation of Japan, we sent a contingent of the nation’s top librarians to Japan to create a modern, Western public library system there on the grounds that we couldn’t give them democracy without public libraries; it just can’t exist.

John85851says:

Slipperly slope

As the risk of “defending pornagraphy”- I think it’s a slippery slope to ban anything that someone doesn’t like.

Once you accept the idea that certain things can be banned, then other things can also be banned. Let’s start with “pornography”, then “pirate” sites, then political protest sites, then anything else that someone decides is “bad”.

ltlw0lfsays:

The Library of Alexandria

Fortunately, the librarians in this case are steadfastly refusing to back down. That isn’t always what happens. And, look, there’s nothing wrong with being conservative, having a specific set of values, and all the rest. What you can’t do, however, is insist that public institutions follow your personal views just because. That isn’t how secular government works. […] We have to be more grown up than that, something librarians have been pushing for a long, long time.

A very long time…

The Library of Alexandria was known to contain every work they could get their hands on…sometimes stealing the work off of ships parked in the harbor, transcribed onto papyrus scrolls, and then the copies were usually returned to the owner, instead of the originals, once the copy was made.

The Library of Alexandria was destroyed, likely by conservative religious zealots (Coptic Pope Theophilus or the Muslim army of Amr ibn al `Aas), who disliked or despised the knowledge contained within the library or its availability to commoners.

I wish conservatives (though, full disclosure, I consider myself one,) would worry more about themselves than what other people are doing…. There is also an awful lot in the Bible about not judging others and treating others as you would wish them to treat you (which usually are ignored by the conservative Christian population in favor of the fire and brimstone, everyone else is going to hell attitude.)

Bea Jonessays:

Do any of you realize that this library had someone watching CHILD PORN at it? And they DID NOT call police? You have an awful lot of bad things to say about that woman but you don’t seem to care that some assbag was watching child porn and got away with it until that woman you hate found out about it. She’s asking them to stop allowing child porn. The filters these days are much better and can stop illegal searches. My God! What is wrong with you people? Have you never heard of sex trafficking? Do you know how much illegal and sick shit is out there? Does that really need to be going on in a public library with tax dollars? You all think you’re standing up for free speech when what you are doing is protecting criminals. Is there even one of you here who would stand up and say “I want to watch porn at a public library!”? I bet not.

Rekrulsays:

Re:

Do any of you realize that this library had someone watching CHILD PORN at it? And they DID NOT call police? You have an awful lot of bad things to say about that woman but you don’t seem to care that some assbag was watching child porn and got away with it until that woman you hate found out about it. She’s asking them to stop allowing child porn.

And what is your source for this claim? The linked article doesn’t mention child porn. Megan Fox’s own YouTube video where she rants about someone looking at porn on the library computers, doesn’t once mention child porn.

tqksays:

Re: Re:

Do any of you realize that this library had someone watching CHILD PORN at it?

The linked article doesn’t mention child porn. Megan Fox’s own YouTube video where she rants about someone looking at porn on the library computers, doesn’t once mention child porn.

She accused the library of covering up an incident of someone looking at child pornography, and she forced a re-vote on the issue by having the Public Access Bureau declare a board meeting illegal because it was held on Lincoln?s birthday.

No sticks in this fire. Just trying to un-muddy waters.

M. Alan Thomas IIsays:

Re:

I’m not a member personally, and I wouldn’t support them unreservedly, but within the confines of certain issues, yes, I think they do good work. My point was largely to explain that the various groups with overlapping interests frequently coordinate who takes the lead on any specific case, so I can’t say that librarians do it all.

TechDirt perpetuates child porn and sexual trafficking

This TechDirt story is substantially false. It perpetuates lawlessness including child pornography in public libraries. It further harms trafficked victims of sex crimes displayed on public library computers as alleged “free speech” as if the rights of the victims not to have the worst days of their lives broadcast for all to see don’t matter.

“If all of that sounds to you like a big bucket of crazy, you’re not alone.” It is a “big bucket of crazy” as TechDirt reported it. As TechDirt reported it, it is crazy, I’ll admit that. But what TechDirt has reported is materially false.

I am directly involved in this story. What TechDirt has written is the false view put forth by the people promoting child porn in public libraries and facilitating further harm to sexually trafficked women and men. There is no balance that is not presented in a unfair, inaccurate manner. If anyone wants truthful information, instead of the propaganda TechDirt repeats, please contact me.

Rekrulsays:

Re: TechDirt perpetuates child porn and sexual trafficking

I am directly involved in this story. What TechDirt has written is the false view put forth by the people promoting child porn in public libraries and facilitating further harm to sexually trafficked women and men. There is no balance that is not presented in a unfair, inaccurate manner. If anyone wants truthful information, instead of the propaganda TechDirt repeats, please contact me.

Neither the story that TechDirt links to, nor the video on YouTube, made by Megan Fox herself, makes any mention of child porn being viewed on library computers. You’re going to have to post some links to credible sources for your claims if you want to be taken seriously.

Dan Kleinman of SafeLibrariessays:

Re: Re: TechDirt perpetuates child porn and sexual trafficking

Thanks, Rekrul. For a credible source, I provide the library itself finally admitting to the crime and the cover up, but only after almost a year of effort by Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan, an effort that was not at all accurately characterized by TechDirt:

“2014-8-18 Diane Jennings Admits Child Porn and LIES about Staff Action,” by Megan Fox, YouTube, 11 November 2014

http://youtu.be/8bNhrQ2LPWc

And the library has done nothing to stop the problem. Instead it has devoted around $200K to legal services needed to enshrine its ability to continue to facilitate the harm I previously described.

TechDirt said nothing about this.

M. Alan Thomas IIsays:

Ah, the child porn strawman?ad hominem. Also Dan Kleinman a.k.a. Safe Libraries, who seems to live to be a one-man vocal minority on this issue. (I wonder if he’s still advocating domain-level blocking with OpenDNS when challenged on overblocking/underblocking….)

Assuming that they’re serious (and not intentionally pushing an emotional button in order to achieve an ulterior goal), the people raising a child porn argument are focusing on one specific issue on which they only imagine anyone disagrees with them while implicitly or explicitly advocating solutions that are overbroad because they’re not considering the impact of their solutions on any factor besides that one issue. Which narrow focus resulting in collateral damage is kinda the objection raised in the article and elsewhere.

Child pornography?the legal-defined category?is illegal. When a patron is encountered accessing it, as with any unambiguously illegal activity (e.g., on with absolute liability), reporting them to the police is proper practice. I will happily argue that any specific individual who has argued or done otherwise is wrong on that specific issue. I am confident from my own experience and reading that few, if any, librarians would disagree with me. There certainly aren’t any ALA statements that I’m aware of that say that child pornography should be legal or not reported; there are merely statements that certain methods of handling the problem are ineffective and/or will have unintended consequences that will routinely outweigh the rare cases in which some nominal benefit is obtained.

We agree on the problem; we differ as to what is an appropriate solution because we are not narrowly focused on a single issue. Representing our position purely in terms of how it might theoretically affect your single issue is to make a strawman out of our argument. Attempting to extrapolate our values from a strawman in order to then discredit our morals and values in order to discredit our other arguments is an ad hominem predicated on a strawman, which is hardly a logical argument.

ALA Facilitates Child Porn, Here's a Quote

“M. Alan Thomas II” is using ad hominem argument to target me and draw attention away from this TechDirt story being poorly reported and filled with false misinformation. My showing the library finally admitting to the child porn coverup has no effect on such people as they continue to attack the target.

Be that as it may, for the fair minded people here, read this diktat directly from American Library Association telling librarians they are not judges and are in no position to decide what is child pornography. Therefore, they are not to report it, and that is exactly what Orland Park Public Library did and other libraries do as well.

The person attacking me as the “one-man vocal minority” and the false OpenDNS claim said, “There certainly aren’t any ALA statements that I’m aware of that say that child pornography should be legal or not reported….” As you will see, that too is false. Here’s the quote from the ALA in guidance given to all libraries nationwide in USA (and now being taught by ALA in Canada):

“Guidelines and Considerations for Developing a Public Library Internet Use Policy,” by Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, 26 March 2013, emphasis in original:

Libraries and librarians are not in a position to make those decisions for library users or for citizens generally. Only courts have constitutional authority to determine, in accordance with due process, what materials are obscenity, child pornography, or ?harmful to minors.?
….
As for obscenity and child pornography, prosecutors and police have adequate tools to enforce criminal laws. Libraries are not a component of law enforcement efforts naturally directed toward the source, i.e., the publishers, of such material.

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/challengedmaterials/preparation/guidelines-internet-use-policy

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