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Victoria mom challenges library's porn policy

By Melissa Crowe
Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Oct. 28, 2012 at 5:28 a.m.


More Harm Than Good?

Sweep too broadly, blocking only some sites with indecent materials while restricting access to thousands of legal and useful resources

Fails to block communications sent through email, chat rooms, non-Web sources, peer-to-peer exchanges and streaming video - now-popular modes for distributing pornography.

Filters are cumbersome to disable and to override. They do not reflect library selection criteria, nor do they block the images cited by CIPA as obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors.

Source: American Library Association

What is obscene?

Obscene: material or a performance that

The average personn, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex

Depicts or describes patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy and sexual bestiality

Patently offensive representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs

Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value.

Source: Texas Penal Code Chapter 43

Kristi Hall glanced up from helping her daughter research a school project at the Victoria Public Library and saw skin - lots of skin.

She jumped up, told her 11-year-old they had to change computers and then reported the man and his activity to the library staff.

"I was just in disbelief," said Hall, 30, of Victoria. "How dare he?"

Thousands of adults use the public library's computer banks to check emails, do research, apply for jobs, read news and watch YouTube videos.

Under First Amendment protection, adults have the right to also access some pornography.

The library's rules and regulations say the free Internet access may not be used for illegal activity, to access illegal or obscene materials or to display material that violates the Texas Penal Code.

Hall said it is not working.

"I just believe there shouldn't be anything like that allowed on a public

computer," she said.

Nationally, libraries are faced with choosing funding, equitable access or censorship. But Hall wants to know how access to pornography advances the library's mission "to help patrons improve computer skills and enhance self-learning."

Victoria Public Library Director Dayna Williams-Capone said the library follows state law, and users 18 and younger can have an Internet filter if their parent or guardian chooses.

"For us, we hear the positive increasingly," she said. "Our central mission is to provide free access of information. Filters are not going to solve the problem."

Williams-Capone remembers Hall's complaint and said her staff immediately checked up on it, but did not see any obscene material on the man's computer.

"It's a constant cat-and-mouse game," she said. "We are doing the best we can do to assure it doesn't happen again."

Hall said the library's response was different, that she was ignored and the man remained.

"The community needs to know it's happening and people are allowing it to go on," Hall said. "It's not OK for some predator to sit next to our children and view porn on a computer."

She called it a waste of tax dollars.

"We're paying somebody to have control of that library, and she's not taking care of it," Hall said.

Williams-Capone said blocking out key words could limit research for medical conditions, art and politics. With 34,000 annual uses of Internet access and so few complaints, adding a filter is not necessary, she said.

Williams-Capone said the staff's immediate response to complaints is satisfactory.

"I see very positive things happening here," she said.

Since she joined the library, only one user has had a membership card revoked for improper use of the computers. However, she declined to explain the user's offense.

When library staff catches someone looking up pornography, there is little they can do aside from showing the person the Internet policy.

Child pornography is the point at which they can call in enforcement.

Chief Deputy Terry Simons said Internet freedom is a national issue most libraries grapple with.

He said the issue is that "obscenity" is not clearly defined.

"Today, we act as if we don't know what obscenity is, but we all recognize it when we see it," Simons said.

Although he doubts an open Internet at library computers pose a high risk of someone obtaining child pornography, he said the issue needs to be discussed in a public arena.

"To me, it's not about free speech, but some of it has to do with free personal liberty," Simons said.

While people should be free to do with themselves as they want, Simons said there must be a balance when that infringes upon other people. Someone viewing pornography near another person has the potential to do that.

"Call me old fashioned, but I don't think that pornography is a viable use of public-use computers," Simons said. "But then comes into question: What's pornography?"

Possible solutions include private cubicles or privacy screens, he said.

"We can worship at the altar of free speech to an unwarranted extent sometimes," Simons said. "Is free speech about politics? Is it about religion and sexuality? Yes, and government shouldn't limit them."

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