Monday, June 23, 2003

So, it's official: according to the highest court in the land, it's no longer okay to look at porn at the library.

Okay, I hear America saying, so what's the big problem? Pornography isn't readily available at bookstores or video stores or on library shelves. How is insisting that libraries install filters on public-access computers to block pornography any different?

Just so we're clear: I'm pro-good porn, anti-bad porn, and pretty much anti-any creepy dude that's so desperate for his/her porn fix that s/he needs to go to a public library to view it. And if that porn fixation leads to them feeling comfortable enough to then lead a kid into a bathroom somewhere and act out their wildest fantasies... well, I'm thoroughly anti that as well. I also don't believe that anyone has a basic right to view porn at the library. Most public libraries have their public access computers out in the open and, well, public. Not everyone wants to look at porn, and quite a few people find it offensive, even if they don't want to abridge an individual's right to choose to view it in the privacy of their own home. If we're supposed to support the right of someone to look at hot nekkid Asian chicks performing fellatio on '66 Mustang engine blocks, then we also need to support the rights of the folks who don't want to have to catch a glimpse of that while sitting next to it trying to register for community college classes online, or send email to their grandkids.

I'm also not entirely comfortable with the semi-official library stance that this is a censorship issue. The thing is, we libraries practice a similar form of censorship all the time. For example, our library has a fairly large selection of videos, which grows larger every week. However, it doesn't include a great deal of pornography. We don't get Hustler Magazine, either. We make excuses for exclusion (don't have the budget, don't have the space, not enough demand, blah, blah, blah) but we're still not catering to anyone's freedom to read/view whatever porn they want.

The thing is, we're not talking about pornographic videos or books or magazines here. We're not talking about a self-contained physical unit that a library can choose to include or exclude from its collection. We're talking about the Internet, and that's another beast entirely. (Actually, to be pedantic, which is de rigeur when talking about all things computerized, we're talking about the World Wide Web, which is yet another beast, but let's not get too bogged down in details.) The Web is pretty much an all-or-nothing deal. We (libraries) can either choose to provide access to it, or not. So much information is available electronically through the Internet and the Web, it has become impossible for libraries to ignore it. But once you decide to accept the Web, you have to accept all of it. That means the useful, authoritative information sources, the crappy Hello Kitty and B2K Geocities pages made by eight-year olds, the nerdy Doctor Who message board sites, the pointless rambling blogs by childrens librarians who should be reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, shopping sites, and porn. You can't pick and choose which parts you want, because it's all interconnected, which is why it's called the World Wide freaking Web in the first place.

So the thing about this Supreme Court decision is it's just stupid and ignorant. It treats the Web as something that can somehow be partitioned up, and completely ignores reality. It treats filtering software as something that works, that effectively blocks all offensive sites and doesn't block anything else. And that simply isn't so. Software gets outdated. Web developers will come up with new and interesting ways to defeat the blocking. And the software will continue to block sites that have nothing to do with pornography. (In the children's library, our filter routinely blocks students from accessing their school sites. Go figure.) And it doesn't take a lot of research to support this.

And yet, the highest court in the land chooses to behave as if it makes sense to require libraries to install blocking software. Instead of doing the research and acknowledging that this doesn't solve the intended problem, and in fact creates others, and consequently proving that the Court possesses some understanding of technology, they choose this path. This namby-pamby decision that shows that they side with religious conservative whiners who can be easily placated by non-solutions that they can cram down other people's throats rather than taking a greater view of the whole situation. And that's why this whole thing bugs me. Not because of what it means to libraries, and not because I'm shocked at yet another whittling away at American freedom. (I'm becoming pretty numb at this point, actually. But only in the sense that it means I can fight harder if I can't feel the pain.) It's just another sign that our decision-makers don't care about looking at the big picture and making what's ultimately an informed decision. I don't have to agree with everything our government does, but that's okay, as long as they can show real, logical reasons for what they've done. Once again, they've failed to meet that test in my eyes.
I didn't have a whole lot to say today. Working on an entry raving about the new Special Edition DVD of Disney's The Love Bug, but mostly, I feel like I should be reading the new Harry Potter book. (It's 900 pages long, and I know two people who have already finished it, thus offering further proof that I don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do.)

But there are some links that were meant to be shared...