Baby steps: Throwing pornography out of the public library

March 09, 2015
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My husband and I have been thinking about what to do regarding my discovery that pornography is freely accessible at the Ottawa Public Library.

We both feel very strongly that this battle must be fought. As parents, we are outraged at this failure by the Ottawa Public Library to protect our children. As citizens, we are shocked that public morals and norms have sunk so low in a privileged public space that is tasked with representing our shared cultural values. The library's policy must be revised.

To get the ball rolling, I have written two letters. The first letter is to the Board of the Ottawa Public Library. They have an online comment submission form, so I made use of this. Here is the text of my letter:

As an Ottawa resident and a parent of three young children, I am outraged that Internet pornography is freely accessible at branches of the Ottawa Public Library.
On Thursday, March 5, I visited the Ruth E. Dickinson branch, and one lady reported a man viewing Internet pornography on a library computer. The librarian informed me that all she could do is "suggest that he move to a more discreet computer" if one was available, because Internet pornography is not filtered or blocked at the library due to their “freedom of information” policy. 
This happened at 5:35 p.m. on a weekday. The Ruth E. Dickson branch is bustling with children and teens at that time of day. As you know, this library shares a building with the John McRae Secondary School, whose classrooms are just down the hall. It it also attached to the Walter Baker Sports Centre, which is packed with kids who are doing their after-school sports, and it is sandwiched between two elementary schools. 
Not only that. Ruth E. Dickson prides itself on being a "very child-friendly branch" which "boasts a spacious children's section and is the centre of a vibrant, growing community." My own children visit this library often. 
As parents, my husband and I feel completely betrayed by the Ottawa Public Library. We do our best to keep porn out of our children's lives, and this just takes the cake.  The public library should be a safe environment for children. It is unacceptable that our kids, or any kids or teens, should accidentally encounter porn at the library in this way. It is also not acceptable that they should be able to use the library's computers to look up porn for themselves! 
Further, this is a matter of public morals and decency. The public library is a privileged cultural space that reflects and represents our shared values and norms. Allowing people to openly view porn at the library is a disturbing statement about how low we have sunk as a society. 
I am aware of the OPL's commitment to intellectual freedom, and of your statement on this topic, which is available on your website. While I support your policy as regards actual expression of "knowledge and intellectual activity," it is laughable to put porn in that category. 
Pornography is a mind-numbing addiction with no real informational value. Much of the Internet pornography industry has criminal elements, including the use of sexually trafficked women and children. It is always demeaning towards women, and a lot of it is outright misogynist. It is highly offensive to other patrons of the library when people use library computers to view Internet pornography. 
What’s more, outright illegal activity may be occurring right inside our libraries. How can librarians monitor that child porn is not being viewed right inside their "very child-friendly" library, when they obviously aren't using porn filters? 
My husband and I have been informed that a public debate over permitting pornography in Ottawa’s libraries happened over a decade ago. In the end, the Ottawa Public Library decided to allow porn. 
Despite this, we are far from accepting the OPL’s current policy as the “new normal”, and we would like to revive the discussion. Most people still don't know that this is happening in our libraries, and we believe that a majority would be outraged. The OPL needs to revise its misguided policy on this matter. 
We believe that anyone caught viewing porn at the library should have their library card suspended on the spot, and perhaps even be fined. There should be real ramifications. And while I have been talking so far about the use of the library's own computer stations, people using their personal devices in the library should be included in this policy.
As a first step towards reviving this discussion, I would like to request a personal meeting with a representative of the Board of the Ottawa Public Library, to further discuss your policy and my concerns. 
Sincerely,
Lea Z. Singh

The second letter is very similar, and it is directed to our City Council representative, Ottawa City Councillor Jan Harder. I am sending that letter in hard copy.

I will let you know about their responses.


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