Library Porn

by MARILYN PENN April 28, 2011
Perhaps it’s the recognition of imminent obsolescence that has made public libraries adopt a most perverse position – refusing to block access to internet porn from their dwindling patrons. Computer use in libraries is usually at communal tables where there is no privacy and one person’s monitor is easily accessible to his neighbors and other passers-by. The library, in other words, is public space and as such, should be subject to the same considerations that govern zoning laws. What the library professes to be an issue of freedom of speech is mitigated by the weighty issue of whether it’s legal or fair to foist pornography on the public whether it wishes to watch or not. Would a sex club be licensed to operate next door to a library or school? If not, what makes it permissible to broadcast its product inside the building? The library acknowledges that porn must be blocked in the children’s section but seems unmindful of the fact that minors can walk to other sections and observe what’s happening on other people’s screens. 
Would the library have the same degree of tolerance for patrons watching lynchings, snuff films, animal torture, serial killers, Al-Jazeera footage of decapitations or Terry Jones burning the Koran? Is it the proper role of the taxpayer to support the use of public computers for sadistic, illegal or murderous enterprises? Traditionally, the library existed as a place for research and scholarship; over the years it has become a place for the homeless to stay warm and for people to borrow videos of movies. But there are no pornography videos available for borrowing - isn’t this inconsistent with adamantly protecting the right to provide it on the premises?
The most recent test of the library’s policy occurred in Brooklyn when a woman objected to a man watching a threesome perform online. Another Brooklyn institution has had ongoing problems with declining attendance despite numerous expensive attempts to make it more attractive to the neighboring population. Perhaps the Brooklyn library and the Brooklyn Museum should pool their resources and offer a separate common space for adult entertainment that would surely boost their clientele. And perhaps they can charge a modest fee for such a service and free the public from supporting institutions that have a diminished raison d’être along with diminished common sense. When library and internet porn exist in the same sentence, you know that the former has lost its moorings and may no longer deserve unqualified public support. Contributing Editor Marilyn Penn is a writer in New York who can also be read regularly at

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