Adults using library computers to view pornography (called “perving”) has been an issue at our and other libraries across the country.
Recent letters to the editor printed here and in other local publications have been critical of the Santa Monica Main Library for not doing more to prevent children from inadvertently viewing inappropriate materials on library computers in the “adult” computer area.
Other letters have expressed concern about patrons entering the Main Library with backpacks, carts and bags that may contain weapons or contraband. Some have suggested bag searches and screening individuals for weapons as is done at airports.
With Santa Monica home to hundreds of mentally challenged street people — many of whom regularly patronize the library — the possibility of a tragic incident such as the recent Binghampton shootings, although unlikely, is possible. So, when the board’s April meeting was scheduled for the Montana Avenue Library,and both items were on the agenda. I dropped in.
Greg Mullen, the city’s head librarian, ran the meeting. They quickly moved to Item 6: letters to the editor. After a library board member noted one letter had been written by Jo Kranitz (SMDP, March 17, Page 4 “Porno has no place in the library”), they agreed to close discussion and move to Item 7.
I asked the board if it was going to comment. “No,” I was told. I asked what precautions were in use or could be beefed up to insure that underage children are not exposed to inappropriate materials. I received a blank look from the commissioners. Mullen said the subject wasn’t on the agenda.
I was told that library policies were available at all the libraries and on-line. “This is not an open discussion,” Mullen said. My comments were heard and they were not required to answer or have a conversation. Then, they moved to the next agenda item. I’d had enough. I got up and left.
For the record, here’s what’s posted on City Hall’s Web site: “As with all other library materials, children’s access to and use of the Internet is the sole responsibility of the child’s parent or legal guardian. The Internet may provide access to information, content and services some of which parents may feel is inappropriate or objectionable for their own children. The Library and its staff cannot censor access to materials or prevent users from encountering materials on the Internet that they may find offensive.”
I found Mullen and the library board to be dismissive and evasive at their monthly meeting. Afterwards, I e-mailed my questions to Mullen and he did respond. Concerning not discussing child access to inappropriate materials, Mullen replied, “The board had recently reviewed the policy addressed in the letter (to the editor) and that they were not planning to review it again that evening.”
He reiterated the policy noting, “staff cannot … prevent users from encountering materials on the Internet that they may find offensive.” This is a cop-out. This has nothing to do with censorship. It’s about taking precautions to prevent children from being even inadvertently exposed to some adult “users” computer while he/she are viewing harmful materials. If movie theaters can restrict access to adult materials, the library can, too.
Responding to my assertion that pubic comment and input was stonewalled at the meeting, Mullen e-mailed, “The practice of allowing public input and comment separate from the discussion of an issue is intended to create a clear distinction between the role of the public and the role of the body that is meeting. The Brown Act (state regulations governing public meetings) is clear about the right of the public to comment on matters before the body addresses the matter.” But, my reading of the Brown Act says that some public dialog on any issues under the purview of the board before or during the items discussion is allowed.
Mullen e-mailed, “The last meeting was a ‘special’ meeting because of its location,” [Montana Avenue as opposed to the Main Library] which was why public comment was limited to the items listed on the agenda. “At a regular meeting there is an opportunity for public input on any matter that falls under the jurisdiction of the library board.” Excuse me. It appears this is an excuse for basically curtailing discussion on issues that Mullen and the board members didn’t want to address. And, “letters to the press about children’s exposure to inappropriate materials” was on the board’s agenda.
On security concerns, Mullen e-mailed, “We don’t screen individuals as they enter library facilities … . There are no metal detectors or searches conducted upon entry.” Apparently, safety issues aren’t a big concern, either.
I’m still not satisfied. The poorly run meeting blew an opportunity for those overseeing the library to communicate, discourse with the public and maybe make some new friends for the library. And, that too is a tragedy.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.