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Porn in the library: Censorship vs. decency

December 29, 2011 |  1:16 pm

Library
The Times' editorial board has been pondering the availability of pornography in the library, an issue that catches the public's eye every few months when one of the porn viewers misbehaves, or parents find it's hard for their children to browse the stacks without catching on eyeful. Most recently, it was the November arrest of a homeless man in the Laguna Beach library for allegedly fonding himself while viewing porn, with a crowd of seven other men around him. It's the advent of the Internet, of course, that creates this new scene in the library. Some parents in the town are now calling for the porn sites to be blocked.

Editorial writers and editors were as bothered as anyone else by the thought that an institution we revere as much as the public library -- remember that most journalists grew up with their noses in books -- was being used to view lurid photos. It was pointed out that, although librarians hotly defend against censorship of any kind, nonetheless they make value judgments all the time about what sort of materials should be available in libraries, by purchasing news and home magazines rather than nudie publications. On the Internet, though, porn is, like most things, free. Keeping it away from patrons involves an active step, just as it takes an active -- and costly -- step of purchasing pornography in print to make it available.

"Lady Chatterley's Lover" was once considered pornography, not just unsuitable for a library but illegal to sell in some countries a little more than half a century ago. Banning materials from the library because the majority of people find them distasteful is a dicey step. What might the majority find unsuitable next? Something that you want to read, perhaps? Yet all patrons to the library should be able to search for books and videos without patently offensive material shining across the room at them.

Whose rights matter more? 

ALSO:

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Pornification of private parts: A new body dysmorphic disorder?

--Karin Klein

Photo: Camarillo Public Library. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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