Pornography at the Library, Two Girls Shocked by Patron’s Computer Images

As a parent you can learn something new everyday. When your children are old enough to walk places in the neighborhood alone or with a friend, chances are they may also learn new things as they independently navigate their way, even if just a short distance. Sometimes, the things they learn and see are things parents don’t anticipate.

That’s what happened to two Snoqualmie 6th graders on January 5, 2015, when on their own studying at the Snoqualmie King County Library Branch.

The 11-year olds saw something shocking, pornography. And one of their mothers learned something that also shocked her: adults can use public library computers to access explicit images that most parents deem unacceptable for children; images many consider pornography.

The two girls were in a study room at the Snoqualmie Library, which sits behind a bank of eight computer stations, when they noticed the images on a man’s computer screen through the room’s glass window.

The girls did what they were taught to do when something doesn’t seem right. They went to an adult – the librarian – and informed her about the images on the man’s computer screen.

But there was nothing the librarian could do unless the images were of children. Because the images were not considered illegal, the librarian’s hands were tied.

The girls were upset and called one of their mothers, Meg Barlament, who went straight to the library for further clarification.

Meg said she was told although it was terrible the girls saw what they did, the man had the right to look at whatever he wanted as long as it wasn’t child pornography – and there was nothing the librarian could do. Meg contacted the police who also said there was nothing they could do.

Parents, wondering how this is possible?  It’s all related to the law, the constitution, policies and mission statements.

Study room behind computer stations at Snoqualmie Library branch, where 11-year olds witnessed graphic images on computer screen

Study room behind computer stations at Snoqualmie Library branch, where 11-year olds witnessed graphic images on computer screen

Internet Filtering Policy, Libraries for All

The King County Library System has an internet filtering policy that states: “KCLS uses the Internet filtering protocols of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which mandates that any public library using federal funding must filter Internet access to screen for obscenity, child pornography, and in the case of minors, material that is deemed harmful to them.”

Library computers have default filters in place ranging from ‘Max Filter’ in the children’s computer area, to ‘Under 17 Plus’ for younger library patrons, to ’17 and Up Only.’

According to CIPA law, all adult library patrons must initially have internet filtering, so all adult library cards are set to the ’17 and Up Only’ filter, which screens out child pornography, phishing, potentially unwanted software, pornography, etc.

But adult patrons can show photo ID and have their status changed to ‘Unfiltered,’ removing blocks from the computer. In the United States, pornography is legal, protected by the 1st Amendment. Child pornography is not.

KCLS Community Relations Director, Julie Acteson, who was sensitive to the concerns of parents, said per their policy, KCLS cannot stop adults from viewing things on library computers that are considered legal.

The Library System’s mission is to is “to provide free, open and equal access to ideas and information to all members of the community.”

Aceteson explained their Internet Filtering Policy is in line with that mission statement and added that pornography is also subjective – what one person might consider pornographic, another person may not.

It’s a slippery legal slope as constitutionally, sexually explicit material cannot be banned for adults and libraries are for all people, adults and children.

Acteson said it’s one of the reasons why the computers are located in a central part of the library and not in private areas, explaining most times people don’t like to view explicit images if they think other people can see what they’re viewing – so the majority of the time they don’t.

As for the Snoqualmie Library and it’s small, open design, parents may want to be aware that although rare, their children could see things on library computer screens not allowed at home or in a movie theater – even if their own library card doesn’t allow it.

As for the Snoqualmie girls who witnessed those explicit images and mom Meg Barlament? They all want the possibility of pornography in the library NOT to be an option.

Meg started a Facebook page called, Stop Pornography in the Snoqualmie Library and All Public Places, and hopes more community members will help her with the fight to keep other children from seeing the shocking images her daughter witnessed while just trying to do homework at the library.

Library 1

Snoqualmie King County Library Branch located on Center Blvd on Snoqualmie Ridge.

 

Comments

  1. Stephen Kangas says

    This is a national problem that affects all libraries for the reasons Danna recites in her article. But, there are some measures that have been taken by some libraries to reduce the chance of bystanders viewing “pornography”; these include limiting unfiltered internet access to designated computers whose screens face a wall outside of a normal pathway, or placing narrow viewing angle filters on the display screens (similar to what are sold for use on laptop computers for airline travelers who don’t wish someone seated next to them to see secret employer information). It’s harder to do some of that in a small library like Snoqualmie’s but perhaps with some pressure more can be done by KCLS to adopt some best practices of other libraries to improve the situation.

    • Andy Cleary says

      I like these ideas Stephen, and as much as I will defend individual rights, it is a truly messed up situation if somehow a library is obligated to provide things to people that it doesn’t want to provide. This of course is one of the many problems with “public” ownership or rules-making: it’s a one size fits all solution, instead of allowing individual “owners” making those decisions for their own establishment. Private internet cafes, for example, likely impose different rules for things like this, so that consumers that don’t want to accidentally see porn would only solicit cafes that did not allow it, while the more adventurous would attend those that did. I know almost nothing about the “rules” regarding public libraries, but it would at least be better if each could set its own usage rules.

  2. what kind of a weirdo looks at porn in a library????

  3. I am proud our tax dollars go towards computer access at libraries. I don’t care what you look at, as long as it’s legal and our browsing is not filtered. I do not want filtered internet access at libraries. There best way to curtail porn-viewing (if that’s our true goal) is to make every screen face towards a busy common area. People are very good at self-censorship and do not need the help of concerned 6th graders, moms, or librarians. .

  4. And, yes, I have a 4th grader and we go to the library at least once a week.

  5. KCLS realizes that this is a sensitive issue, and can raise strong emotions. It can be difficult and uncomfortable to be exposed to images we would prefer not to see, particularly so for our children. Unfortunately, that is one of the hazards of unrestricted computer access in public spaces, including libraries. That is why all of the KCLS computers in children’s areas are filtered at the most restrictive level. This prevents access to ‘adult’ sites in children’s areas, in strictest compliance with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

    In addition, all KCLS library cards are issued with “moderate” filtering for all patrons, which minimizes access to potentially objectionable sites. Under the law, persons over 18 years of age may request to have this automatic filter removed.

    In upholding our mission to provide free, open, and equal access to ideas and information, the King County Library System neither monitors nor censors what patrons–of any age–choose to read or view. Similarly, we do not prohibit patrons from accessing or viewing materials that are Constitutionally-protected under the First Amendment. Based on Supreme Court decisions, pornography–with the exception of portrayals of children–is Constitutionally-protected. If staff becomes aware that a patron is viewing child pornography, which is illegal, they will intervene immediately and alert the appropriate authorities.

    We recognize that some patrons may view materials that are objectionable or offensive to others. We have explored many options to minimize unintentional exposure, though none can possibly be 100% effective:

    — Filtering all children’s area computers, and grouping other computers centrally in the library space has proven a better deterrent than placing computers in corners or separate rooms.

    — KCLS installed privacy screens on all public computers to minimize the possibility of inadvertent viewing, but patrons can remove them. If staff becomes aware that a privacy screen has been removed, they will ask that it be replaced, but patrons are not required to use them. Consequently, there are times when a computer monitor might clearly be seen from any angle, but this is not against any law.

    KCLS strives every day to create a safe and welcoming environment for all patrons in our libraries. We also rely on parents to supervise their children in the library as they would in any public space. And we encourage parents to report any situation that causes concern, so that staff can determine the best way to deal with the matter.

    It is a real balancing act to uphold the rights of all individuals using public resources. In this case, adults have the right to access information without censorship. We do our best to help them be sensitive to the concerns of other patrons in our libraries. Protecting open access while also creating an environment where inadvertent viewing of pornographic content is minimized to the greatest degree possible remains a challenge and a focus.

    I realize this information may not provide the answer you were hoping for, or even change your perspective. I do hope it gives you a better understanding of our principles, policies, and the regulations behind them.

    Julie Acteson
    KCLS Interim Director

  6. my tax money paying for a pervs internet access to porn great..those girls are smarter than the adults around them!

  7. pervs shouldnt be entitled to see porn in public…those poor girls are now traumatized!

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