Pornography at the Library?

I last night I received this e-mail from a concerned Lake City parent regarding her experience with a library patron viewing pornography. The Conversation, on KUOW, is discussing this topic today. Call or e-mail them to share your thoughts.

 Dear Neighborhood Bloggers:

I was at the Lake City Library with my two daughters (7 & 10 years old) at 4:45 on Sunday, January 22, 2012. I left them in the children’s section and went to look through the movie section, where I noticed that a man was watching hard core pornography (including anal penetration & other adult content) on a computer where the screen was facing out into the library.  I told the librarian and asked for help in having him move to a more discreet location.  She could see the screen from the information desk where we were standing and was sympathetic, but said that the library doesn’t censor content and they can’t be in the business of monitoring what their patrons are doing at any given computer. I then asked the man to please move to another computer.  He declined.  In the process of this interaction, I didn’t notice that my daughters had wandered over looking for me and one of them saw what was playing on the screen.


I have had extensive conversations with the library about this incident as well as with the police and local representatives.  The man’s right to access constitutionally protected information is fully protected (which I’m not in argument with) but our right not to be inadvertent viewers is not.  The library is apologetic, but devoted to its guiding principle of supporting intellectual freedom, and I detected no urgency to ensure that not one more child is exposed to pornography in a Seattle Public Library.  

I told the library that I will do my best to get this in the public forum as people need to know what’s going on and the potential risks to them and their children of being exposed to adult content while visiting the library. Please help us have a public discussion on this issue as I am sure that the library can create a safer space for children (and adults) and not infringe on another adult’s right to information.



Julie Howe

24 thoughts on “Pornography at the Library?

  1. maureen macdonald

    I am glad that the man was able to view pornography. Good for him.

    I’m sorry that instead of directing your children away from something you considered to be in poor taste you called attention to what he was doing and exposed them to pornography.

    He declined to move. The library declined to FORCE him to move.

    The library censors the internet in the children’s area. You can allow them to freely roam in an area that is identified as safe for them.

    The library is for the people who use it. If that means that man wanted to use it to view pornography, well, then that’s what it is to be used for.

    The world is a place where people we don’t agree with do things that we consider in poor taste. If you want to (and I encourage people to do this) hide some of this from your children until they are old enough to understand what it is they are seeing, go ahead. Just know that you can’t control every other person who inhabits the world.

  2. maequeen

    I love the Lake City Library and its librarians so much. I visit regularly. The librarians love children and are very helpful to them. They support tutoring activities that happen at the library each week.

    I am sure that the librarians know that the library is an inappropriate place to view adult internet content, but that there isn’t a clear policy about it. Library leadership needs to step up and give them a clear policy to follow.

    The librarians at the Lake City Library are wonderful people.

  3. revmcdowell

    In a work environment (in both the public and private sectors) this would be deemed blatant sexual harassment of employees and a hostile work environment. I don’t see how this would be different for library employees too, let alone the general public, especially since there are minors! The children’s and general public’s civil rights are being violated. If you want to allow free screening of porn you’re going to have to provide private screening booths. It seems to me libraries are liable for providing the same standards of civil rights that a work environment would have to, if not a higher one considering children are there. Since the state Supreme Court deemed libraries can filter, this is a Seattle library policy that the tax payers need to make clear is NOT okay.

  4. paul

    I feel so bad for anyone with children that would have to go through this. I can tell you this, if I had been there when this took place and I saw the man confronted and refused to move…well, I bet I’d be in a jail cell right now for assault. I’d still have a smile from ear to ear knowing I did the right thing though. This is intolerable and will eventually be dealt with. It’s just sad that a man like Mr. Chance goes on TV and condones the behavior (basically). If I had that man’s job and they asked me to go on the news and condone what they did, I would have been fired probably. My dignity is worth more than any amount of money, sorry. BTW, did anyone know that guy was in charge of their youth program? LOL

  5. another patron

    The only reason Seattle Public Library has a policy not to censor internet content is because they provide and maintain computers with internet access. However, there have always been plenty of books and magazines, none of which contained hard pornographic content. So my question is, why hasn’t the Seattle Pubic Library been buying print hard-core pornography for years past? They have not. Doesn’t this mean they have intentionally limited access to print media pornography? Yes. So they must already have policies in place as to what is acceptable to purchase with taxpayer dollars and what is not.

    The library patron’s computer and internet access costs are also funded by taxpayers, so why don’t the same policies apply even though the “content” being provided is not in a printed format?

    This is simply a matter of the Seattle Public Library being too functionally incompetent to manage access to internet content in a way that every other public institution or business has been capable of doing.

  6. Judd

    It’s a terrible situation, but like others I see no easy way to avoid going down the censorship route. I humbly suggest that the library could, at little cost, install privacy screens on computers such that monitors could only be seen via direct line of sight. This might not completely solve the problem, but might have prevented it in this case.

  7. Marilyn

    I agree with Julie Howe. Perhaps people who want to look at porn have a right to do so but those of us that don’t want to see the porn have a right not to be subjected to it either.
    If a library is a public place, do I have the right to take pictures of these public porn connoisseurs and post them on a website for everyone to see. Perhaps we need a new neighborhood blog called “”? Porn access may be a legal right but so is my right to shame those who don’t respect the children in our community.

  8. Sue

    SMC 12A.10.090 Public display of erotic material.
    B. Offense Defined. A person is guilty of displaying erotic material
    if he knowingly places such material upon public display, or if he
    knowingly fails to take prompt action to remove such a display from
    property in his possession after learning of its existence.
    This seems awfully close to me. If it were me I would take this one to the mat. Take it to City Council for sure.

  9. Sue

    Wow, it didn;t take me long to find this at the Seattle public library website
    Library computers and wi-fi may not be used for any illegal activity including, but not limited to:
    •Damaging or altering computer equipment, systems or software
    •Displaying, printing or sending any material that is obscene, libelous, threatening or harassing
    •Downloading or installing any harmful program defined as, but not limited to, spyware, viruses, Trojans, malware, or any other illegal utility on any computer
    •Violating copyright or trademark laws, software licensing agreements or intellectual property rights
    What you describe is obscene in my world. Why the heck won’t the library enforce their own rules???

  10. Thin-ice

    Take one or two library computers, put them in a cubicle where the screen faces the back wall, and then put up signs with large lettering on the outside of the cubicles that say “CAUTION: FOR VIEWING PORNOGRAPHY”.

    Then the public are forewarned, and the porn viewers are clearly identified.

  11. Alex M

    Living in the Bellevue area, I too encountered an older gentleman watching porn at one of our local libraries. My response was to laugh.

    I understand a mother being upset that her children are exposed to something at an earlier age than she’d like. But that’s what comes with being out in the world. You cannot and will not be able to protect them their whole lives. You can either shield children and thereby have them not ready for what the world has to throw at them. Or you can have frank, if somewhat uncomfortable, discussions with your children about the things they encounter.

    I completely support the library in their response. Open access to information should not be censored at the behest of reactionary parents or anyone else for that matter.

  12. Alex M

    @paul, so engaging in censorship through actual physical violence is somehow the moral high ground? Nice to know.

  13. Alex M

    The legal definition of obscene is actually fairly narrow.


    For something to be “obscene” it must be shown that the average person, applying contemporary community standards and viewing the material as a whole, would find (1) that the work appeals predominantly to “prurient” interest; (2) that it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (3) that it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

    An appeal to “prurient” interest is an appeal to a morbid, degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex.


    All three of these tests must be met before the material in question can be found to be obscene. If any one of them is not met the material would not be obscene within the meaning of the law.

  14. Alex M

    And while you’re at it make the blacks use a different bathroom. Or maybe just make the homosexuals do that.

  15. watcher of watchers

    I fully support anyone’s right to watch whatever material they choose (as long as the subjects are of age and willing), but purposely doing this in front of young kids is out of line, and possibly illegal. Regardless of any possible “rights”, the polite thing to do is to move to another computer. Just common courtesy, there’s no reason not to move except being a jerk.

    What to do? Embarrass this guy until he decides it’s not worthwhile to cause a scene for no reason.

    How? Folks, you all have phones with cameras, right? Get some pictures of this guy, both of his face and over the shoulder with porn on the screen. Good close-ups. Shouldn’t be too hard, given that it seems he’s an exhibitionist. Then publish them online, anonymously. Leave a link here. It’s your right at least as much as it is his to show porn to kids. Eventually someone that knows this guy will “out” him. Jilted Ex, co-worker, whatever.

  16. Lena

    Get a clue Alex M. You clearly have no idea what premature exposure to age-inappropriate sexual content does to children. Any expert will tell you the outcome is unhealthy. No rational parent expects to shield their child from everything that’s out there. But let’s be reasonable.

    And comparing the civil rights of people of color and homosexuals to those that want to opening watch porn in front of children using tax-payer funded library computers is a rhetorical joke.

    P.S. If Child Protective Services found parent subjecting their children to porn they would suspend/terminate those parental rights. But Alex M thinks non parents should be able to subject children to the same content freely? Please move out of Lake City Alex M.

  17. Alex M

    1. A child offhandedly seeing someone watch porn at a library is not going to harm them in a significant way. This argument is much the same as saying violent television causes violent behavior in children. Some studies say yes, some say no. A compelling case for censorship on a scientific basis is simply not there.

    2. Segregating a group is segregating a group, regardless of the basis on which you do it. Just because you find an individual’s choice distasteful, doesn’t mean you or anyone should have the right to make them go elsewhere.

    3. First, would they? Do you know this? I don’t know this for certain either way. Abuse or molestation sure. But, just watching sexually explicit content in front of the children, I wouldn’t be so sure CPS has much of a case without other corroborating factors. Second, the circumstances are vastly different in both length of exposure and context. We’re not talking about mommy and daddy sitting down to watch hours of porn with their kid. We’re talking happenstance exposure to something while out and about.

  18. guest

    (Warning, SARCASM HERE! )

    Hi Julie,

    Let me suggest to you that you not let your children roam around unsupervised in a public library. Or any public setting at all.
    And tell them not to snoop on what other people are viewing/reading.

    I Mean, My Goodness!!! This pervert was watching hardcore porn?!?

    My God, what could you possibly bit** about next? Your dear precious children are sitting next to a woman who is reading Danielle Steele? Or some other author who describes sexually explicit details?
    GOOD LORD, do you know that they could ACTUALLY READ OVER THE SHOULDER of other patrons!?!?!

    MY GOD WE NEED A WHOLE SEPARATE SECTION OF THE LIBRARY TO PUT ALL THE ***DEVIANTS*** in who don’t think what you think, or read what you read!!!


    Take a bit of advice: If you’re THIS concerned about what your precious little children are seeing out in the big, wide world, perhaps you ought to keep closer tabs on them, instead of blaming others for what YOU don’t want your kids to see.

    God damn, get a life lady…

  19. Sue

    I see the definition you link of obscene but the one that matter is from Washington State
    (2) “Lewd matter” is synonymous with “obscene matter” and means any matter:

    (a) Which the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, when considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; and

    (b) Which explicitly depicts or describes patently offensive representations or descriptions of:

    (i) Ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated; or

    (ii) Masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, excretory functions, or lewd exhibition of the genitals or genital area; or

    (iii) Violent or destructive sexual acts, including but not limited to human or animal mutilation, dismemberment, rape or torture; and

    (c) Which, when considered as a whole, and in the context in which it is used, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

    Personally, I feel this situation totally fits the legal desription of obscene matter and should be pursued.

  20. Prayerworks

    Is it against the law to put your hand on a person’s shoulder and pray for them? This man (and many men including me) need prayer for this sickness. It may be a protected freedom, but it’s pure slavery. Lord bless the children who have to endure our selfishness.

  21. Lena

    Those of you that think it’s no big deal for children to view porn are fools. Children’s minds are not developmentally capable of comprehending what they are seeing but it does have negative impacts. Case in point: Josh Powell, murderer of his two children and suspected in murdering his wife. Court records show his father Steve Powell was a porn feind and exposed his young children to his porn material as well. Porn takes on many forms. Straight up “basic” sex to violence, degrading acts (like urination and defication) and bestiality are all over the place. No child needs to see that at an early age. Let them choose for themselves when they are capable of higher level decisionmaking. If an 18 year old wants to watch porn, so be it. But let’s protect the impressionable children and remember what is best for those that can’t defend themselves from adult behavior.

  22. paul

    “@paul, so engaging in censorship through actual physical violence is somehow the moral high ground? Nice to know.”

    @obvioustroll, in this case, YUP!

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