Seattle PI: When is watching graphic sex movies in public, or near kids, an acceptable thing to do? Let’s see.
You can’t legally show porn in your house that can be seen from a park or playground. You of course can’t show it to kids. You can’t watch it at work, unless you want to get fired or sued. And you can’t watch on your iPad on a plane, or the gym, without expecting some outraged person to tell you to shut it down.
But in Seattle, there’s one place where you can watch porn in public, in view of others, and around kids, and no one official will bother you: The library. To be specific, the 27 branches of the Seattle Public Library.
A year after online porn in the library erupted into a small tempest, the issue remains at an impasse. The latest grievance comes from Julie Vanderburg, who said she saw a man watching porn on a public computer in the Beacon Hill library a few weeks ago.
Vanderburg reported the man to a librarian, who simply said Vanderburg could “fill out a form.” When Vanderburg asked the man to stop, library staffers became angry with her, she said.
“One of the librarians, he said, ‘Please don’t ever approach another patron again,’” Vanderburg said last week. She said her kids, ages 6 and 7, had been about 10 feet away from the man, but had not seen what was on his screen.
“I’m not anti-porn. I’m not a church lady,” said Vanderburg, who no longer wants to go to the Beacon Hill library, her neighborhood branch. “He should have a private room. The environment becomes very uncomfortable.”
Essentially, nothing’s changed since last year, when another woman echoed a similar complaint in the Lake City library. In that incident, the woman’s 10-year-old daughter had inadvertently seen a hard-core porn movie that a man was watching on a library computer. The woman’s complaint led to widespread media attention.
A year later, the Seattle Public Library still holds to its creed of unfettered access to constitutionally protected material. That includes the public display of such material, which includes Internet porn.
“…(P)atrons have a right to view constitutionally-protected information no matter where they are in the building, and the Library does not censor what a patron reads or views on a computer,” Library spokeswoman Andra Addison said in an email to Vanderburg last week.
But she acknowledged the need to keep “inappropriate material from children.”
Library computers have “privacy screens” to help prevent “inadvertent viewing.” Adult computers are stationed away from children’s areas, with screens facing less busy areas. Kid computers have content filters. Parents says those solutions aren’t fool-proof.
But the Library, which doesn’t want to create “private” computer rooms, says parental supervision is the “best way to protect children.”
That’s true, says Vanderburg. But she likened library porn to potholes. When someone complains about potholes, a nuisance and public-safety risk, the city fixes them, she said. But when someone complains about public porn – a risk for kids and often grounds for a hostile environment in a workplace – the city looks the other way, she said.
“If a child tripped on a broken piece of sidewalk on Beacon Hill, or a car blew a tire because of a pothole, the city of Seattle would fix it,” Vanderburg said.
The Library also has a long list of rules of things you can’t do in its buildings, to ensure “comfort and safety” of staff and patrons. You can’t eat, sleep, look like you’re sleeping, be barefoot, be too stinky, or talk too loudly. But you can watch graphic porn on a public computer in front of kids, which has made female patrons uncomfortable over the years.
That’s prompted well-known child advocate Jon Gould to recently urge the Library for a “more child- and family-friendly policy.” Gould is the deputy director of the Children’s Alliance, but wrote the library last week as a private citizen and Seattle parent. “Good options exist to meet the needs of all patrons,” he said. “Including those (kids) who don’t have a voice or choice.”
Libraries are vital for an informed society, and any rein on the flow of information threatens their foundation. Complaints about porn watching also represent a fraction of the more than 14 million people who visited the library in 2012.
Last year, there were about 70 complaints of public porn watching, most in February of 2012, in the wake of the Lake City incident. This year, there have been four complaints.
From the Seattle Library website:
The Seattle Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.
Promote literacy and a love of reading
Recognizing the vital importance of reading to open doors and expand horizons, the Library strives to support every patron in becoming a lifelong reader.
Support children and youth
We strive to join parents, educators and young people in helping to raise thoughtful readers and citizens. We recognize the priority of efforts to close educational achievement gaps.
I’m not sure how adults watching porn has anything to do with enriching lives, encouraging reading, nor supporting children and youth.