The picture above is the splash page for a website called the Safe Library Project. It’s supported by the group Morality in Media, “the leading national organization opposing pornography and indecency through public education and the application of the law”. Here’s the blurb from the About page on the site:
This site was begun by Morality in Media, in conjunction with the War on Illegal Pornography, to help restore sanity in public libraries. All public, taxpayer-funded libraries should refuse to allow pornography on public computers – that is common sense.
We are not in a fight with your local public librarians. They are good public servants. Rather we are at war with those, like the American Library Association (ALA), the ACLU and others, who have advocated access to porn in public libraries. The ALA has been the driving force behind pornography on library computers. ALA and the ACLU fought a losing battle all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court against the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a federal act that requires public libraries that take certain federal funds to block pictures that are (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Imagine! Shouldn’t the American Library Association be on the side of protecting children from pornography?
This passage is followed by a couple more paragraphs full of argument fallacies (most prominently the appeal to emotion). The short version is that it advocates for the enforcement of obscenity laws (using possibly the narrowest interpretation of the Miller test, though it is not mentioned) against free or commercial pornography sites and because all of these sites are obscene (in their opinion) that libraries should be mandated to use filtering software whether they take the federal e-rate money or not. It’s a nicely packaged bundle; all but softest core porn is obscene, therefore it should be prosecuted and also all libraries should be filtered to prevent people from reaching material (because it is obscene) even if it is not an issue (but it could be). Everyone with me so far?
There isn’t much in the way of supporting evidence or documentation on the website for this stance. No research showing how unfiltered libraries have higher sexual crimes in their surrounding areas than filtered libraries, no studies or reports on the effectiveness of filters and filtering software, not even one fancy chart to make the case. (There are reports on the PornHarms site, but nothing specific to libraries.) I would presume that support is supposed to be derived from the myriad of links offered on the site to news stories (some of which actually don’t actually apply since correlation does not equal causation) and a couple of scraped articles from Library Journal (an Annoyed Librarian column and the Dean Marney BackTalk piece). The website seems more like a contest to see how many times the words “porn”, “harm”, and “libraries” can be mentioned in a single sentence.
Two parts of the website caught my attention (and are my reasons for blogging about it). One is the tab marked “Report on Your Library”. It’s a web form that asks people to check with their local library for these specific questions:
- What is the library policy regarding explicit material?
- Do they have a filter in place? Are they willing to install one?
- How do they keep children from viewing explicit material?
- Have the librarians witnessed or been the victim of sexual assault on library grounds?
It seems like a case “which one of these things just isn’t like the other?”. There seems to be quite a leap from the third question to the fourth, a jump from asking about the possibility of filtering to whether an actual crime has been committed. I would presume that this is being asked because of the underlying Safe Library Project theory of ‘porn causes sexual assaults’, which if true would be more of a compelling reason to filter the entire Internet rather than just the public access ones. Alternatively, it is fishing for a reason to bring forth a lawsuit and/or manufacture a public outcry in order to compel the library to filter their computers, even if the actual context or frequency of occurrence would indicate otherwise. I find it to be an interesting glimpse in the tactics that the Safe Libraries Project seeks to use to leverage against libraries.
The other comes from the “Do Something” section. There’s too much to simply quote here; you’ll have to take a look yourself. It provides two paths to action. The first is contacting your library and demanding that filters be installed. (Actual quote: “Many librarians will agree with you on this subject and will do all they can to install filters on their systems. We just need to ask!”) The other is organizing and pressuring the library to install filters. Not an unusual tactic, but it does make me chuckle that a group of people would be so unfortunate as to not get one of the “many” librarians that should agree and do all that they can to help. Unlike the previous section I mentioned, this page spells out what a person should do or say while they are at the library gathering information.
Overall, with the exception of those two sections I did not find anything truly concerning about the website. The issue of filtering is akin to a flu strain in the realm of library science ailments; we can do a lot to take steps against it, but it will never truly be eradicated. Libraries are one of the many fronts in the balance between constitutionally protected speech and obscenity; a privileged headache to have compared to free speech restrictions in the rest of the world and one that has been given to us by the writers and subsequent interpreters of the First Amendment.
Personally, I find filters odious, the equivalent of locking up a state park because one person littered. In my opinion, it punishes the innocent more than it prevents the offenders from acting as it is a ham-fisted solution to a niche problem. In essence, it is an ineloquent solution to a complex social, psychological, and anthropological problem.
And so, here the issue remains: those who want filtering and those who oppose it. The Safe Libraries Project is a site created for the purpose of mandating filtering software to every public library in the United States. If this website was a seasonal outlook, it looks like there is a flu season in our future. So be on the lookout for the symptoms.