Library Porn Leads To Privacy Screens On San Francisco Library Computers

As someone who has worked in a number of libraries, I know that library porn can be a huge problem. Libraries do not want to block access to information, even if that information is pornography. At the same time, however, other patrons do not want to know that the creepy guy sitting at the corner computer is surfacing library porn on a public computer. Still, too, in an academic library, the viewing of pornographic materials might be part of legitimate research. So, what is a library supposed to do about library porn?

To address the issue of library porn, the main library in San Francisco is installing new plastic privacy screens on public computers in the hopes that the screens will block out any offending images from everyone else other than the intended viewer.

Adrian Dumont, a regular at the library, considers library porn one of the hazards of using the publicly available computers. As he tells KTVU, “You see a lot of people looking at porn and such.”

He also adds, “It seems kinda messed up, people doing that kinda stuff in a public environment. I mean, people don’t get on the bus and read hustler in front of everybody.”

To block library porn as well as other sensitive materials from anyone walking past the public computers, the library has installed 18 of the privacy screens over the last several weeks.

Libraries strive to provide open and equal access to all patrons. Privacy screens are an alternative to internet filters that block library porn as well as some less scrupulous websites.

As city librarian Luis Herrera comments:

“We’re always looking for any kind of elegant solution that strikes a balance between the right to privacy and folks that want to use the library for any other intended purpose.”

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Others, however, disagree with using privacy screens to deal with library porn. As Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of the anti-pornography group Morality in Media, argues:

“I think it’s definitely not enough. Even with those protector screens, people walking directly behind somebody can see porn. I mean porn in the library? There’s no place for that.”

The San Francisco library is happy with the results of the privacy screens and plans to install more.

In the meanwhile, the question still remains about the place of library porn on public computers in libraries. I personally have had to ask a few patrons to quit looking at pornography on a library computer when other patrons complained. Was I disgusted that someone would look at porn in public? Yes. Do I think that looking at porn on a public computer at a library should be banned? To my second question, I can answer with only the following: Who gets to define “pornography,” and, more important, who gets the draw the line defining offensive?

What do you think about the new privacy screens aimed at blocking library porn from general viewing?