TED'S JAW DROPPED perceptibly as I described how easily he could find
pornography on the Internet. It's as simple as pushing a button, I said.
No, it couldn't be that easy, he said.
It's that easy.
Ted is brand new to the Internet. He just bought his first computer and
can't wait to get on-line. He's also the father of a 7-year-old daughter
who probably knows more about computers -- and pornography -- than her
ancient 35-year-old dad.
If she's been to some of our nation's public libraries, she might have
seen plenty. After all, children on their way to pull Goodnight Moon off
the shelf can glimpse everything from bestiality to torture just by
walking past a terminal where porn is being viewed. And there's no limit
to the deviance young Internet surfers can encounter on a public
Hel-lo Ted and all you other clueless parents out there: nap's over. The
Internet is happening; pornography is ubiquitous; no one is watching your
A new study released this week by the Family Research Council,
``Dangerous Access, 2000 Edition: Uncovering Internet Pornography in
America's Libraries,'' says that the American Library Association (ALA)
is ignoring a ``sea of evidence'' that ``Internet pornography and related
sex crimes are a serious problem in America's libraries.''
The study used the Freedom of Information Act to get library reports of
Internet traffic. With only 29 percent of libraries responding,
researchers found 2,000 incidents of patrons, many of them children,
accessing pornography in America's public libraries.
Considering the number of people using libraries, 2,000 doesn't seem like
a ``sea,'' or even a large lake, unless your child happens to be one of
those swimming in the slime. But even 10 million ``hits'' wouldn't likely
change the ALA's position against mandated filtering. The onus, says the
ALA, is on parents. Besides, they add, filters are ineffective in that
they block legitimate research as well as pornography.
The ALA's favorite example is breast cancer. A typical filtering system
would block access to any site containing the word ``breast,'' thus
thwarting important information about breast cancer or, say,
More important, the ALA argues that blocking pornography constitutes
censorship and interferes with intellectual freedom. They make their case
on the ALA Web site (www.ala.org), citing historical incidents of people
being ``burned at the stake, forced to drink poison, crucified,
ostracized and vilified'' for what they wrote and believed.
I'm no fan of burning people at the stake, except on the occasional
Tuesday, but a little vilification would be welcome. It's ironic that
parents who have bothered to distract their children from television to
cultivate an interest in books ultimately have less to worry about from
the tube than they do from the public library.
The ALA's attitude, meanwhile, is tough luck. As explained on their Web
site: ``Parents who believe that the current state of society and
communications make it difficult to shield their children must
nevertheless find a way to cope with what they see as that reality within
the context of their own family.''
Parents trying to cope have pushed for reasonable compromises, such as
segregating filtered and unfiltered computers.
Some libraries have been more cooperative than others. Almost all have
policies about Internet use, whether requiring a parental signature for
children's use or limiting on-line time. But until we find the guts and
sense to define obscenity, none are sufficient protection absent a parent
or adult to monitor children on the Internet.
The common sense answer, meantime, is to restrict children under 18 to
certain, filtered computers in a protected area of the library. If the
kid is researching breast cancer for a school project and can't find the
link, well, guess what. Librarians are there to help. Aren't they?