Letter: GR Library's Pornography Policy Not Strong Enough

Reader Eileen Finn suggests the library adopt a "no tolerance policy" and employ the use of filters, among other measures she says will better protect residents from being exposed to questionable content.

The following letter to the editor was sent by a resident who is concerned over the Glen Rock Public Library's 'balancing act' on protecting the sensitivity of residents and first amendment rights as it relates to pornography and questionable content on library computers.

The letter is unedited as follows.

To the Editor:

Glen Rock can do better!

Having lived in Glen Rock for 23 years, I’ve  spent many happy hours with my children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends at the Glen Rock Library. Imagine my shock last April, when I saw a man viewing online pornography, only to learn that it was library policy to allow access to pornographic material. Although still horrified, I was not surprised to see the same man doing the same thing, a week later. Both incidents occurred when the library was crowded with adults and children of all ages; some alone, others with tutors or parents.

Our community works very hard to make Glen Rock a family oriented town; a place where people aspire to live. We have high standards for our schools, services and activities; along with a documented concern for the safety of our children. Residents have the right to demand those same standards for the library and its services. Should we be the town “squarely in the center”---a place where anyone from anywhere feels comfortable viewing obscene or pornographic material online? Or should we be the community recognized for “raising the bar”?

A group of concerned residents, including myself, has met with the Library Board multiple times requesting a stronger stance on access to viewing obscene and pornographic materials online. There have been a few positive changes made as a result of those meeting. However, I feel the Board has taken a middle of the road position on allowing access to online pornography. The publicized privacy screens give a false sense of protection, since you can still see what patrons are viewing from behind. Posting policy is an important step. Yet, many people are still unaware of the possibility that other library patrons could be viewing pornography while using the computers. Although, adding separate computers in the children’s room for 5th graders and below is a positive move, this effort still does not protect children and young adults from being exposed to questionable internet users. The current library Internet Use Policy places the innocent in a potentially compromising and dangerous situation.  

In checking with other local libraries, I found the following policy practices:

Ridgewood has adopted a “no tolerance” approach. They will proactively ask a person to cease viewing or leave. Hawthorne does the same.  Why isn’t the Glen Rock Library staff empowered to make the same demand?

Wyckoff also takes a no tolerance stand and in August 2012 revised its Internet policy. In part, Wyckoff’s policy reads: “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect all Internet content. No Wyckoff Library computer may be used to view or display obscenity, child pornography or other illegal content…. The legal status of any particular content can be determined only by a court of law with proper jurisdiction. The library reserves the right to terminate any Internet session at any time if it is determined to violate any provision of or the spirit or intent of this policy….”

Glen Rock’s approach is passive enforcement, even though its internet policy contains the following statement: “In accordance with federal and state laws and regulations, patrons are not permitted to use terminals for any illegal or criminal purpose, including but not limited to, accessing legally obscene materials.  Misuse of the computer or Internet access will result in the loss of your computer privileges…” This statement should empower our library staff to ask people to cease or leave.  Current practice requires a patron’s complaint before any action is taken.

Here are a few of the options previously presented to the board:

  • Adopt a “no tolerance” policy for viewing pornography, which empowers staff and patrons to request offenders to cease or leave
  • Install Internet filtering software to a majority of computers and provide a limited number of computers without filtering, requiring sign-up with a library card or drivers license to access unfiltered material
  • Provide more specific and prominent notice on how computers may be used and the consequences if regulations are ignored

In all other respects, the Glen Rock library is a tremendous asset to our community. In this era of Internet access, let us not lose our commitment to the standards of quality and social responsibility that have guided the library’s growth and distinction.  Let’s keep this as the town we come home to. Let’s not be known as the town to come to for easy access to online obscene or pornographic material.

I will continue to urge the Library Board to take a stronger position on access to obscenity and pornography on the Internet. I encourage all residents to contact the Library Director wald@bccls.org and Friends of the Library friends.glenrocklibrary@yahoo.com to let them know how you feel about this issue.

Eileen Finn

CJM October 11, 2012 at 03:41 PM
The problem lies in bigger issues here. Note that Wyckoff says.."The legal status of any particular content can be determined only by a court of law with proper jurisdiction." This is true and the crux of the matter. If Glen Rock chooses to go the route of Ridgewood, Wyckoff and Hawthorne, it stands the CHANCE of being sued and probably losing for violating someones rights. This is, unfortunately, a 1st Amendment issue. I am no lawyer, but I can imagine the arguments presented on behalf of the person who sues. There is, IMHO, a slippery slope here in that you are allowing librarians to make legal decisions concerning pornographic content- decisions that they are not qualified by law or training to make. What next- no reading objectionable matter? Too close to book banning. A lawyer should be consulted, ( and probably has been) to determine actions that CAN be taken. I am not advocating surrender. Just suggesting that any policy that is put in place must be capable of withsatnding legal scrutiny. CJM
Kinsey October 12, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Dear Eileen, I think I saw that man last week. I thought he was having an online chat with a scantily dressed woman. I was horrified as he was sitting in a center table and it was very easy to see his computer screen. He was using his own lap top. I had just dropped off my 8 yr old and 10 yr old to meet their father there. The library should absolutely change their policy. I am stunned that they allow it.
Brian October 12, 2012 at 03:14 PM
It seems to me the issue is that other people might see another patron's computer screen. If so, the library should simply require that computer users apply one of those covers that makes it so that people cant see your screen unless directly behind you. This is a first amendment issue and a slippery slope. Seeing someone reading KKK literature or pictures glorifying violence against minorities might also be shocking. HOWEVER, that right is inherent in the 1st Amendment. Using products to prevent others from seeing over their shoulders is a good solution to protect the liberty and avoid accidental exposure.
Eileen Finn October 13, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Kinsey, You should let the library director know about this incident. the library also loans laptops for use. You should let them know how you feel about this. There is definitely a pattern at the library of this behavior.wald@bccls.org Eileen


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