This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

September 13, 2000 - Dr. Laura Comes to Denver TV

Dr. Laura is coming to town. Rumored to have over 18 million listeners of her radio program, she is launching a new television show. Locally, she'll be on Channel 9.

What does that have to do with libraries? Well, new TV shows of a certain kind have to make a local splash, stir up a little controversy, to get people to watch them. And Dr. Laura has decided that the great issue of our times is pornography in libraries.

Most recently, the 15 year old daughter of a member of Dr. Laura's staff was sent to the Denver Public Library with some hi tech equipment and a dubious task. The equipment: a secret camera attached to a pair of glasses. The task: to find evidence of people looking at pornography on public Internet terminals, to look at pornography herself, and to check out an R-rated video.

She succeeded. Her video is the centerpiece for Dr. Laura's first program in the Denver area.

While I don't claim to speak for all librarians, I do have some observations about all this.

First, let's look at the job of the public library. Our mission is pretty simple: to provide public access to information (where "information" is used in its most general sense). The Internet, the World Wide Web, is but the latest tool to fulfill that mission.

Based on careful analysis of Internet traffic (what library web page selections our patrons click on, what URLs people enter, what search terms our patrons use) I have a pretty solid notion of how this tool is employed at our libraries.

Ready for the shocking truth? The World Wide Web is used ... for research -- homework assignments, company profiles, consumer purchases, and popular news topics. It is used, in fact, pretty much the same way our books are used.

Librarians have spent a great deal of time and talent selecting, and in some cases creating, high quality web-based resources. Not only that, we offer a host of classes that help parents and children learn to use the World Wide Web effectively.

In short, we make a positive contribution to the ever-growing volume of Internet resources, focusing on authoritative and useful data. In this, we fulfill our mission, and can demonstrate that the public makes altogether appropriate use of it.

Does that mean that "anything goes?" No. Libraries are still public space. Our Internet terminals, at every one of our libraries, are placed within easy line-of-sight supervision by our staff. On occasion, typically when a couple of people start giggling in front of a screen, one of our staff wanders over to see if they need assistance. A gentle and civil intervention has always been sufficient for us to restore decorum.

Is there pornography on the World Wide Web? Of course. It has a way of following every publishing media. Librarians aren't responsible for that, and we have neither the authority nor the means to stamp it out.

Can children and adults get to sexy pictures through library terminals? Sure, if they go looking for them. No library web page will direct them there.

Couldn't libraries use so-called "filtering software" to prevent children from stumbling across things their parents don't want them to see?

Well, some libraries do use such software. At present, the Douglas Public Library District uses it at the Internet terminals located in the children's room. We do not, however, use it on terminals elsewhere. This is the same principle we use for the rest of our collection: the books in the children's room are different from the ones in the rest of the building.

Why not use filtering software on all terminals? Because filtering software has two persistent problems: it fails to block much of what it purports to (sexy pictures, "hate speech," etc.), but succeeds in blocking many things that are perfectly innocuous, and often quite useful.

Vendors of filtering products consider what they block (which keywords, which specific sites) to be trade secrets. In other words, they don't tell you exactly what they block or why. Frankly, I'd rather trust the librarian I know than the software provider I don't, to decide what the public may be permitted to view. Even if one of Dr. Laura's sponsors happens to be such a vendor.

Is there an "epidemic" of pornography at the library? No more so than in the rest of our culture.

If you don't want your children to seek pornography, or watch R-rated videos, then I have a suggestion. Tell them not to, and tell them why. If they do it anyhow, hold them accountable for that decision.

But trust me, no matter what you see on TV, America's biggest problem is not that children are spending too much time at the library.

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