Guns, Porn, and Library Makerspaces

A few months back, the story that a 3D printer created a working (albeit fragile and limited) plastic gun shot around the news in libraryland. As I recall, the reaction in my social circles was swift and decidedly against allowing library 3D printers for such a purpose, despite the fine print about the economics and viability of the guns. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of how some librarians can be in love with the First Amendment and abandon the Second as if the Bill of Rights was a buffet. The argument could made that words and ideas are far more dangerous than guns, but this post isn’t about that.

In thinking about 3D printers and what kind of limits should be imposed on them, I started wondering about the other big makerspace setup in libraries: digital media labs. While I can see weapons being restricted or banned on library 3D printers (whether it is reasonable or not is another matter), what kinds of limits would librarians place on media creation? What kinds of limits exist already? Could a person record a music track that has violent and/or sexual content? What about visual art with the same content? Granted, some of these examples are well within the boundaries of the librarian free speech ideals, but here’s the question I’m leading up to:

Could someone use a library digital media lab to create and/or edit a pornographic movie?

On one hand, limitations against this kind of material are already established. Most public libraries don’t have a subscription to Playboy (the gold standard of pornography in libraries) and have generally avoided sexual materials due to theft and vandalism. Another rationale is that it would be more trouble than its worth, a case in which the public policy trumps the First Amendment and freedom of expression. There’s nothing wrong with picking your battles, especially in the long game of public relations and budgeting.

On the other hand, there have been steps taken to allow people to view pornography on the computers at the library. Why would the creation of it be any different? This might be some of my libertarian roots showing, but what consenting adults do is their business. (I’m sure this point can be bogged down by a million ‘what ifs’, so I’ll concede that it’s not a blanket pass on all content.) If we allow people to put sexual content in their music and visual art, why not be able to make an amateur adult film in our digital media labs?

Like many grey areas in libraryland, I’m sure there is going to be a diverse reaction to this end of freedom of expression. Just like some libraries ban guns and others welcome them, I’m sure there will be a similar dichotomy when it comes to restrictions (or lack thereof) on creating adult content, be it music, art, or film.

My hope is that that libraries will side on the less restrictive side, favoring the freedoms (expression, intellectual) that we hold so dear. Libraries should be the organization that gives people permission to be themselves, no matter what the prevailing societal and cultural winds dictate. It’s in our very nature to collect and protect material that which is deemed unsavory; this ideal should be extended to the individual.

7 thoughts on “Guns, Porn, and Library Makerspaces

  1. Just to complicate matters a bit:

    What about using a library’s digital media lab to create materials depicted an image of the Prophet Mohammed? Freedom of religion (as generally practiced in this country) would allow it, but Muslims might be highly offended. Would a library take a stance that might result in a Rushdie-like fatwah?

    • Wow, just when I thought it couldn’t get any harder. I think you have arrived at the worst case scenario!

      I’d have to think about it. I don’t know in regards to the pros/cons.

  2. This is an interesting post — and admittedly, I don’t know if there’s any instances of people making adult films in a library makerspace.

    I will say that when I first saw the title of the post, I mis-read it …. I thought it said “guys, porn and library makerspaces” and wondered if there’s been some kinky 3-D printing going on. Obviously, I’m been at my computer for too long. :)

  3. Yep, I guess that since libraries are financially self supporting entities and aren’t subject to oversight by any kind of state or community stakeholders then we should definitely become 1st amendment absolutists. Most people who access pornography in libraries are delightful, responsible, and super-fun for female staff and children to be around, so I say, let ‘er rip! Let’s install Tor on all of our public computers so patrons can shop on Silk Road! Hell, they can even use the library as a PO Box for the guns and smack! Because freedom! Fortunately, most librarians are living in an actual working and publicly accountable environment.

  4. Pingback: Veille hebdomadaire – 18.08.13 | Biblio Kams

  5. @ delibrarian: Ditto.. Nicely said. I work in a large urban library, and don’t know of any public library in an urban setting that, were we to follow the “libertarian path” that you are suggesting, wouldn’t turn into a cesspool within weeks. No thanks. I don’t approve of censorship, but the use of community standards to maintain some semblance of control of what is visible on computer screens is essential to maintaining a good working environment for both staff and customers in a public library in this day and age. Certainly, what two consenting adults do in private is none of anyone’s concern, but we don’t generally allow public copulation either.

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