Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is 7.5% a lot?

Great. More porn stories starring libraries.
The Dallas Morning News reports that they looked at 5,200 pages of porn at the local public library. Well, they didn't initiate the search for the porn, but as journalists, they felt it was their duty to take a looksy. Not sure how they were able to obtain this data, but they calculated (based on their 45-minute survey) that 7.5% of all the library Internet use was for porn. Is that a lot? Cuba's economy grew that much in 2007. China's oil consumption is expected to grow at a rate of 7.5% per year. International trade contributes $51 billion a year to Miami-Dade County's economy and employs 7.5 percent of the county's labor force. Michigan's unemployment rate is currently 7.5 percent, the highest in the country.

It seems like a lot. But not enough, I guess.
The American Library Association is outspoken in its belief that computer pornography filters, which Dallas public libraries don't employ, are easily obtainable but hardly infallible. The filters have been known to inadvertently block medical and artistic information, such as Web pages about breast cancer and classic paintings depicting nudity. They also raise the specter of a government – or corporation – dictating what residents may view when using a library computer.
"There is no technology that can filter out all objectionable material, and every filter filters out constitutionally protected material. Filtering is of great concern to us, as a result," said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's Washington, D.C., office.
Libraries looking to limit pornography should consider placing their Internet-connected computers in clear view of library staff, or install privacy screens so that the computer user, not bystanders, is the only person capable of viewing what's on the monitor, Ms. Sheketoff said.

A quick search on Google shows 38,000,000 pages for "breast cancer." Is blocking some of those pages abridging free speech?
And when was the last time a librarian bought a crappy book for the collection? Or gave bad information to a patron? Are librarians infallible? We're still here.
And doesn't it violate the patron's privacy when we put the "porn computer" all the way over in the corner, out of clear view?
It seems like this is a battle no one wants libraries to win.

The Internet/Free Speech argument always confused me. Saying that you have to let the whole of the Internet into the library because it all comes through the same pipe is like saying that you have to let every book in the library that's available for purchase because you let in some. We can refuse to include just about any printed material we don't want in the library.

I love our Internet filter. It's a collection management filter. If we don't want hate speech, we click that box. If we don't want porn, we click that other box. If we don't want images of celebrity babies, we click another box. And as soon as we get the firmware upgrade with the Britney filter, this place will be like Heaven.