Thursday, April 28, 2011

XXX in the library

New York Public Library

There has been quite a furor in the media around the New York Pubic Library's public statements about library patrons' rights to access x-rated material on the library's computers. It's not often libraries get mainstream media attention, even rarer is it to see libraries talked about on late night chat shows like Chelsea Lately, but that's what happened last night.

All this attention has come from a New York Post article in which journalists visited to the NYPL specifically searching for people accessing adult material. Libraries in the U.S have provided access to the internet for years. Public libraries, protectors of  the First Amendment, have always tried to provide access to all legal information, and since they started providing internet access, they have carried this philosophy to the internet.

So this "news" journalism is hardly news at all, but now the world has caught on to the issues with x-rated material that libraries have wrestled with for years, what do you think? Do you think the right to free speech overrides the right to library users, including children, to not view material they don't want to see by accident? Should libraries have x-rated R18 curtained off sections?
 
In New Zealand we don't have this problem. We don't have a constitutional document, but we do have constitutional law, and a bill of rights. However, every library I've worked in or used had strict rules prohibiting accessing adult material through the library's computers or internet connection. There have never been any complaints citing breaching free speech that I've heard of. I like libraries striving for constitutional principles, freedom, and democracy. But context matters. I'm sure in the United States,  the police would remove someone looking at the same material on a public street outside a school. Shouldn't this also apply to a public library?

8 comments:

  1. You would think adults would have more sense. Children roam the library.

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  2. In my library we have no rules. The theory is that patrons will govern themselves - all pcs are fairly close, so supposedly if someone is offended or concerned about what someone else is doing they can discuss that with the person.

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  3. That's a tough question - I do feel adults should have access to adult materials - within reason - but I definitely feel that if not safeguarded properly kids and teens would be accessing it as often as possible - the lure of the taboo is very strong at any age - but especially then. So maybe a separate section is the answer - though I realize that then you run into the issue of space and expense. Not an easy answer. Thanks for making me think!

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  4. Hi!
    Since libraries are public property you should take into consideration that "public" doesn't always mean sharing what your watching on the internet. Freedom of speech shouldn't have anything to do with surfing the web looking at "naughty" pictures. Great post! Have a great day!

    Sherrie
    Just Books
    http://sherriesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/04/to-z-blogging-challenge-x.html

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  5. Such a fascinating question! I've just written an essay on this issue for my Information Management course, and it was a really interesting topic to delve into, especially considering the laws of different countries.

    American librarians seem much more likely to give access to all material, or be more annoyed when local restrictions or complaints make them curtail the material available.

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  6. Eeeee. We have filters in place to prevent porn being accessed on our internet PCs at the library BUT a customer approached me recently to say a gentleman beside her was accessing adult content through youtube (a lesbian threesome no less) and she was very uncomfortable. I don't think it is appropriate in a public place - you can't shag in public so why should watching sex in public be any different?

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  7. Fellow commenters, can we have a little more sophisticated analysis than "it shouldn't happen"?

    Freedom of speech isn't about the reader (internet browser), it's about the content deliverer (pornographer) having access to that reader. It's a creator rights driven principle.

    Here's a serial available from the New York Public Library:

    http://catalog.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb10988855%7CSplayboy%7CP0%2C1%7COrightresult%7CX5?lang=eng&suite=pearl

    That's right, "Playboy". The one put out by the octogenerian who still has the stamina and/or medical supplements to run regular sex parties.

    It might be desk access to borrow (and therefore an age gated collection perhaps?), but there's surely no way they can stop the patron walking into another part of the library - say the children's area - and settling down to examine their fill of airbrushed photography.

    Tell me how that's different to viewing pictures on a screen in a space reserved for that purpose, and I'll tell you whether the digital age changes things. Let's talk about how many more children are in danger from the person with the magazine in their area versus the person sitting facing a screen that maybe has a 45% angle of optimal view if it's top of the line.

    "Library has: Vol. 11, no. 1 (Jan. 1964)- Current issues in PERIODICALS SECT."

    So there you go. I think there wasn't an internet in 1964, when this institution started collecting this periodical. Let's have some real talk about technology, this is a technology blog after all.

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  8. Hmm..I honestly don't know. I mean, I can see both sides of the argument.

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