I wouldn’t last one day as a librarian. And not just because I talk too much.
It’s because I’m not a calm, nonjudgmental person who could find a child viewing lewd pictures on a library computer and do nothing about it.
I definitely couldn’t suggest that this budding pervert move to a more secluded part of the room so that others wouldn’t be offended by the raunchy images he was enjoying.
Think this doesn’t happen? Think again.
Better yet, talk to Linda Lavender, a teacher at Virginia Beach‘s Advanced Technology Center. It’s been about a week since she stumbled upon a kid who looked to be “12 or 13″ watching a raw animated movie on a computer near the middle staircase in the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library.
This tech-savvy high school teacher is still fuming about what happened after she reported the kid to the librarians.
“They asked me if he was watching child pornography,” she recalled. “And when I told them no, but that it was really, really graphic stuff, they told me they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do.”
Lavender, who includes sessions on ethical behavior in her computer classes and is well-versed in the school division’s tough rules on computer use, was stunned. She pointed out that very young children, coming down the stairs, could view what was on that kid’s screen.
That’s when Lavender learned that the only remedy would be to move this little smut lover to a more remote section of the library where he could watch his “constitutionally protected” movie in private.
I know. I’m ready to scream too. Not sure this is what the framers had in mind when they crafted the First Amendment.
When I first talked to Lavender on Wednesday, I was sure she was exaggerating or that she’d encountered a couple of novice librarians who were flummoxed by the situation.
So I called Martha J. Sims, director of public libraries for Virginia Beach.
Guess what? Looks like Lavender got it right.
“All of our computers are filtered, based primarily on words,” Sims said, noting that the filters are mandated by Virginia law. But those filters, she said, “don’t necessarily catch all of the images.”
Beyond that, anyone 18 or over can ask to have the filter removed. Although that certainly didn’t happen here.
Look, I understand that librarians have historically fought censorship, and I applaud those efforts. But we’re not talking about banning “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.“
Libraries continue to offer copies of edgy and controversial literature, as they should, despite protests by prudes.
Still, the last time I checked, library shelves were not packed with porn. If that’s what someone wants, they have to head to an adult bookstore.
But computers – especially after the filters are removed – have access to all of the detritus available on the Internet.
Sims spoke with resignation about the struggle to allow patrons, young and old, to exercise their constitutionally protected rights while “making the libraries a comfortable place for everyone.”
“Besides, everyone has their own standard of what’s offensive and what’s not offensive,” she said.
Hence the suggest-a-person-move-to-a-computer-in-a-more-private-part-of-the-library solution.
Wait. There’s more. Sims said privacy screens are being ordered for library computers around the city, but they aren’t in the main library yet.
The complicated rules regarding computer use in libraries are rooted in law and court cases, Sims noted. Beyond that, while schools fill an in loco parentis role, libraries do not.
“A library is a public place, like an airport,” Sims replied after I asked about protecting kids who patronize the library without their parents.
Frankly, I’m starting to think that airports may be a more wholesome place for kids than public libraries. At least newsstands there keep the raunchy magazines behind the counter.
Imagine, for a minute, a man sitting in a public library soaking up all the dirty delights the Internet offers – except kiddie porn, which is illegal – as book-loving cherubs wander by on their way to check out “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
Think about that, next time you drop off your darlings at the library.
On second thought, don’t leave your kids at the library. Go in with them. Hover like a helicopter while they’re on the computer. If you catch your offspring watching dirty movies, do what I’d do right before I’d get sacked as a librarian: Whack ‘em with a paperback and pull the plug on their fun.