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Chicago Public Library Wed Aug 26 2009

The Chicago Public Library: It's Not Just for Reading Anymore

I'll admit it: I'm a library junkie.

Sure, I could research everything from the comfort of my home PC, but why? Researching at home just doesn't compare to the physical library experience; there is something about perusing shelves that house hundreds of books that just gets me going. And the fact that I conveniently work and live near two of the best in the city, Harold Washington Library Center and Woodson Regional Library, respectively, is the icing on the cake.

As much as I love the Chicago Public Library system, there are some things, especially regarding internet usage policies, that leave me perplexed. Earlier this summer, a new computer policy was put in place: Effective June 1, patrons with outstanding fines or who are not in "good standing" are no longer allowed to use computers for either word processing or the internet.

Several weeks before, notices were taped on PC monitors throughout the city's libraries; however, the policy is still not listed on the system's website.

The way I see it, this policy was instituted to not only punish people who are negligent in returning library items but also to encourage timely returns. If they can't follow the rules, they shouldn't be able to enjoy any of the privileges. That's fair enough. As a regular library visitor, I certainly understand the need for this new policy, and I appreciate being rewarded for being a responsible borrower. And while this may leave some people out in the cold, rules are rules — or are they?

Obviously, for the CPL system, all is fair when it comes to pornography.

Let me get this straight: Bad book borrowers are restricted from using library computers — in any capacity — but those who watch pornography are not?

I have witnessed, on several occasions, many patrons watching "footage" on adult websites, right out in the open, with little to no regard to what's going on around them. And I'm not talking about scantily clad women in music videos; I'm talking about the real deal. I have also noticed indifferent security guards and other library staff walk around as if it were no big deal.

Apparently, I'm not the only one annoyed by this patron pornography perusal; recently, WGN aired a segment on it, and noted library staff members' acknowledgment that [viewing pornography] is a First Amendment right.

Well, we certainly can't argue with that now, can we?

As it stands, it doesn't appear anything will be done about it; therefore, I, along with countless other patrons, will just have to continue to be offended.

Well, thank goodness the CPL does have policies in place regarding child pornography.

At least that's a start. At least.

 
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Dawn Guy / August 26, 2009 11:37 PM

WOW! Excellent piece Shawny. Short w/very clear points which is most important. Your story had me looking for my little book on the Constitution. The excerpt on library staffers accepting the illicit actions of patrons as...what?...a 1st Amendment right?..Puhleez! I was thinking; look like its time to exercise the other portion of that amendment...assemble and petition for change! Love your work!!

Erica Sanders-Hurst / August 27, 2009 12:38 AM

Very interesting article. I never knew that such a policy existed. Actually I should be ashamed because I can't even tell you the last time I've been to a Chicago Public Library. After reading your article, I'm going to take my two kids to my local CPL to get library cards. Heck, I may even get one for myself.

Amanda Bratschie / August 27, 2009 7:49 AM

Great article! I've been on this issue for some time now - even started a blog about it. Like you, I love our public libraries but I'm not a fan of the open use of Internet pornography. I do think this will change - but it may take time.

Victor Randolph Moore II / August 27, 2009 10:22 AM

Much like Eric, I have not been to library and a very long time. It seems as though the pornography policy, or lack thereof, can be fixed by adding some system restrictions. Nice job and great insight!

Rob Dumas / August 27, 2009 12:00 PM

Hi, I'm one of the librarians at CPL Woodson Regional. I found this blog post through Twitter and just thought I'd offer a few of my thoughts. (Please understand that these are my own opinions and should not in any way be construed as the positions of Chicago Public Library, its Board, the City of Chicago or anyone other than just me.)

I agree with the policy of restricting library users who have fines outstanding from using the computers, for the most part. I kind of wish there was a grace period (if you have one book that's one day overdue, I don't think that's worth locking someone out of the system), but implementing such a grace period would probably be a technical nightmare.

As for the porn issue: it's unfortunate that people feel the need to get such material from the library, but as distasteful as it is, I believe strongly in providing open access to the Internet for all. I'm actually very proud that CPL does not filter the Internet, since such filters invariably cause more problems than they solve. Believe it or not, that guy watching porn does have the right to do so, whereas our policies do state that patrons accounts must remain in good standing in order to use the library facilities. Thanks for pointing out that the policies on the web site have not been updated; I will send an email up the ladder to see if we can get them brought up to date.

The trouble with the issue of pornography is that "offense" is a very subjective thing. Clearly, pornography does not offend the people you are talking about, but maybe a website which, say, advocates atheism (or another issue) does. CPL has neither the time nor the money nor the personnel to monitor what every patron is viewing online and to do so would require far more odious measures than I think anyone would like. The problem is that once you start looking over people's shoulders for one thing, it becomes exponentially easier to keep doing it and to expand monitoring until you have a very sad, very sterile and not very useful collection and set of tools.

Now, if the guy watching porn starts touching himself, that's an offense for which we can definitely throw him out.

Thanks again for voicing your opinion and feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss this further. You can also find me on Twitter at twitter.com/stray, though I use it primarily for non-sequiturs, unfunny jokes and the occasional healthy venting of frustrations.

S. Ford / August 27, 2009 5:11 PM

Good article Shawny. Since it's a 1st amendment right, couldn't the library set aside computers strictly for pornography viewers in a room (Rob Dumas)? And if the questions start flying about 'rights'... just say, 'can't we at least do this for the children who might see this'.

Michelle D. Witherspoon / August 27, 2009 8:59 PM

Nice piece on the library. I haven't gone is so many years because we have access to so much over the internet. Additionally, my kids have a book case full of books so I didn't really see a need for the library. Your article actually made me miss going to my local branch. Guess it's time to either find my card or apply for a new one. Whatever the case, I'll definitely pay a visit with my kids.

Duane / September 1, 2009 10:58 AM

Nice article. I didn't realize that was going on and paid for by my tax dollars. Now, I don't feel so bad for the late books on my last visit. Thanks again for the heads up.

LaShawn Williams / September 2, 2009 12:28 AM

Rob:

Thanks for doing what you can to help get policies updated on the CPL website. As for the “grace period”, I thought of that when I was composing the piece and I agree with you; a one-day offender should probably not be punished as severely as a hundred and one-day offender.

As for the policies on pornography viewing, I am still very uncomfortable with this openness, and I am still holding out for some sort of adjustment in those policies to take place someday.

Crystal B / September 10, 2009 1:53 PM

This was a very informative article. I update my library card every two years, but I don't go to the library often, so I had no idea smut was allowed on the computers.

Wilder / May 28, 2010 8:13 PM

As a newbie to Chicago (approx. 10 months)hailing from NC I had to get used to the allowance to view pornography. I discovered this when I witnessed a man watching it and I thought 'hmm...interesting.' Then he proceeded to grope himself and I draw the line right there.

As I exited the library I decided to inform an officer that there was a man watching porn. Usually I'd let it go, but the whole physical ordeal disgusted me which I neglected to tell Mr. Officer.

I honestly would prefer not to sit next to someone surfing the web and I understand the whole right to surf whatever interests you, but come on.

Marcie / February 23, 2012 8:03 AM

Ok, so I'm about two-and-a-half years late responding, but the problem has not gone away.

It is unfortunate we live in a society where it's okay to watch porn in the library without regard to people in your media surroundings. This says very little about the moral and ethical values today.

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