Monroe County Libraries Ban Adult Sites On Computers

Anne Winter
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Following a recent threat of funding cuts, the Monroe County library system has agreed to block all adult websites from being viewed on public library computers.

This has sparked another censorship argument between county officials and the library board. In March, the county was essentially forced to use Internet filters, following a similar budget-cut threat by County Executive Maggie Brooks.

County spokesman John Durso told XBIZ that Central Library receives $6.5 million in discretionary funding and that Monroe County officials have the option of whether or not to continue each year. The libraries reportedly rely almost entirely on this money to operate.

Patrons older than 17 once had the opportunity to request the filters be shut off while viewing, but with the new policy, users must submit a written request to the library's director, and — once he or she deems the site appropriate — the user can view the website in question.

These policies all were drafted with minors in mind.

"People are coming into that library prior to this policy being changed, accessing pornography and putting children, families and other library patrons at risk," Brooks said. "And that's unacceptable in a public institution funded by taxpayer money."

Adult industry lawyer Joel Obenberger told XBIZ that there are less restrictive ways to prevent children from viewing adult material at the library.

"If the argument that blocking adult access to websites is necessary to protect children walking by," he said, "the only rational solution consistent with freedom of thought and expression is to put adult computers in a place where children are prohibited, to place computers facing away from walls with partitions between them, or to put the users in carrels or booths that block the view of persons who may be offended or arguably injured by exposure to sexual depictions."

Board members say they are not entirely sure, however, how to implement this new policy — town libraries already have Internet policies in place, and it's unclear how they all will mesh — and how librarians will decide what is, and isn't, inappropriate for viewing.

Obenberger said that putting this responsibility in librarians' hands is a bad idea, and an unfair task to require of them.

"I don't trust government bureaucrats to make decisions that affect what people may read, view, hear or write," Obenberger said. "It does not matter that, as librarians, their motives may be good. Librarians aren't hired or trained as censors, and to ask them to evaluate appropriateness is to ask them to do something outside their fair expertise."

Library board members argued Wednesday whether the ban infringed on 1st Amendment rights.

City library board President John Lovenheim said he fears enacting this policy would open the doors for future threat by political leaders to control library content, demanding that, for example, a book about abortion or evolution be pulled from shelves.

"How dare she dictate to adults in this community what they can and cannot see," Lovenheim said. "How dare she use her power to impose her personal views on us."