Not Filtering Porn, But Discouraging It

Patrons viewing pornography in libraries has become a large issue with the introduction of the Internet. Although the problem with porn is mostly a public library issue, academic libraries, school libraries, and special libraries have all had their share.

Patrons in the past could challenge racy material that was in print collection. That is, they could pull an items from the shelves, and physically place it in the hands of library staff for review. The Internet allows quick and easy access to digitized materials, including those images deemed inappropriate by many library users. It is easy to “hide” what one views by switching screens or closing a browser by a click of a button.

And librarians are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. What do you do when a patron comes up and complains about a person viewing porn on the computer next to them? Do you infringe upon the individual’s privacy to view and read whatever he or she wants? Is the individual viewing illegal child porn (how does one tell without viewing it)? Where does the institutional policy come into play? Should porn be blocked by filters? Should it be self-policed by other patrons (react to complaints)? Should librarians ignore complaints and say that our professional values prohibit the filtration information? If there should be filters, who does the filtering and what are the boundaries?

I had to laugh at a quote from News-Record.com’s story entitle “Library Computer Users Viewing Porn Anger Parents.” It describes a “bandwidth shaper,” such as NetLimiter, which identifies web sites by categories — including pornography — and allow the library to throttle access to specific categories and sites.

When the device finds a computer streaming video from a porn site, the bandwidth is slowed to 1 kilobit per second — slower than old-fashioned dial-up — which would cause the screen to give an error or timed-out message.

“It’s not filtering it,” said Tommy Joseph, manager of technology and reference at the library. “It’s discouraging it.”

So perhaps librarians been asking an unnecessary question: “Should patrons be allowed to view porn or not?” Well, under these guidelines, patrons still technically have access to the sites, but won’t really be able to use it. Doesn’t this sound like a filter?

We’ll see how bandwidth shapers stand the test of time!

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About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on November 19, 2009, in Libraries, Privacy, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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