Internet pornography is welcome at our local public library

March 07, 2015
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By Lea Z. Singh |

At 5:35 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, I found myself at the Ruth E. Dickinson Branch of the Ottawa public library. I was standing by the librarian’s desk on the teen and adult floor when a lady came rushing towards the librarian, looking upset and saying: "There is a man viewing pornography at one of the computers!"

The librarian didn't seem shocked by this information, She walked away to the computer section, and came back rather quickly. I was still standing there, aghast. A father and a teenage girl were standing next to me. When the librarian came back, I said to her: "I hope that you told him to stop."

She shook her head. Apparently, all she can do is "suggest that he move to a more discreet computer" if one is available. 

What I didn't know until then, you see, is that the Ottawa Public Library has no anti-porn policy at all, and doesn't appear to have Internet filters for that smut. Instead, the library allows people to freely view pornography under their "freedom of information" policy.

I was furious. I still am. This is a weekday, shortly after school gets out. This library branch is bustling with children and teens at this time of day. It shares a building with a high school whose classrooms are just down the hall. It also shares the building with 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. Dickinson 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 come here often. And no, we don't always stay on the children's floor (first floor). We head upstairs to the teen and adult floor nearly every time, because the reserved books are kept there. Sometimes we walk around the bookshelves and pass the computer sections as we go to browse movies or look for books on the shelves.

There are a number of computer sections in the library, and while some of the computers face the wall, many face out towards other people and areas with traffic, where children and teens might walk by at any moment. I don't know which computer this man was at, but by the lady's reaction, he was shamelessly viewing porn on a screen that was visible to passer-bys.

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! 

Freedom of ideas? Give me a break

After my protests, the librarian folded up her hands in resignation and referred me to OPL's "freedom of information" policy. So I went to their website, teeth locked. 

What I found was this statement about the public library's commitment to intellectual freedom. They don't mention pornography by name, but they do make it very clear that they will provide access to pretty much anything. Here is an excerpt:
It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those, which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. 
While I support OPL's policy as regards actual expression of "knowledge and intellectual activity," it is laughable to put porn in that category.

Pornography is a scourge, worse than cancer of the body; it is a cancer of the soul. It holds people in mind-numbing addictions, hollows out their lives and slowly destroys them. Much of the internet pornography industry has criminal elements. It is always demeaning towards women, and a lot of it is outright misogynist.

But there is so much more to this. The library badly needs to spell out firm limits to its overly generous policy. After all, is it okay for library guests to view even S&M bondage or other violent and extremely disturbing pornography? 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? 

It's disgusting to think about what our children might accidentally encounter as they pass by those computer screens. This has GOT to stop. This battle must be won, for the health of our society. 

If anyone is caught viewing porn at the library, they 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.

Pornography Booths are a better solution

If the enlightened library management scoff at all this, and continue to believe, despite all reason and common sense, that porn addicts must be allowed to get their kicks at the library, then here is my tongue-in-cheek suggestion: create booths.

Yes, special "Pornography Booths", clearly labelled and self-enclosed. Place them in every public library. In these booths, people will be able to view pornography in complete privacy, without bothering anyone around them. Children will not accidentally catch sight of the shocking, disturbing and even violent scenes that would burn dark shadows in their little minds. 

With booths, the damage would be restricted to those who freely choose it. We banned smoking in public places, so why do we still allow second-hand pornography to pollute our environment?

Moreover, booths would give people the privacy to do what they really want to do while they watch pornography... and heaven knows, they might already be doing it outside these booths.

It's true that porn booths might make libraries look less child friendly. On the bright side, they would actually make them more child-friendly! Of course, OPL might want to equip these booths with live cameras, which enable librarians to monitor that no children are hiding inside. 

But the fact is, I don't want porn booths at my local library. I don't want any porn there at all, open or hidden - but especially not open. The OPL must revise their policy, and stop this misguided tolerance of what should never be tolerated in a civilized society. Otherwise, the OPL is failing Ottawa's families in a big way.



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