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Academic freedom protects pornography at Webster library
Webster University’s Emerson Library allows students to view pornography on library computers under the protection of academic freedom. The policy states that if anyone makes a complaint related to a student’s viewing of pornography, the library staff will ask the offending student to move to a different area.
Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said he agrees with the library’s policy.
“If a student is caught viewing porn, we’re not going to ask them what class it’s for,” Giblin said. “That’s overly intrusive and it ends up creating road blocks for research.”
Dean of the Emerson Library Laura Rein said the university opposes putting filters on computers because it has a strong commitment to academic freedom.
“Filters are very restricting and obscene material is often subjective,” Rein said.
Rein said the university does not want to distract students from conducting legitimate research.
Giblin agrees with Rein, saying that the university has to assume everyone in the library is there to do research.
Elizabeth MacDonald, dean of library services at Lindenwood University, wasn’t aware of any policy prohibitng porn at Lindenwood but said their library had more problems with people viewing pornography before it began to use filters.
“I don’t believe students were researching only for academic reasons,” MacDonald said. “We would find too much stuff.”
Leah Simms, video production major at Webster, said the library shouldn’t allow people to view porn at all.
“If students need to research anything obscene, it should be in the privacy of their own home, not at school,” Simms said.
Sharon McCaslin, lead librarian at Fontbonne University, said there is no policy addressing the viewing of pornography. She said if there was a problem, that it would fall under Fontbonne’s “conduct in the library” policy. The University of Missouri- St. Louis also doesn’t have a policy that addresses viewing pornography either.
University libraries and public libraries do not abide by the same rules.
“Public libraries are in a different situation where they have children that come and they’re required to get filters,” Rein said.
Director of the Public Webster Groves Library Tom Cooper said federal legislation passed the Children Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requiring all public libraries that receive federal funding to have Internet filters. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the restrictions take the form of requirements for Internet safety policies and technology, which blocks or filters certain material from being accessed through the Internet.
Cooper said universities should look into downloading Centurion Guard to computers. Centurion Guard is a software security product that cleans everything off of the computers when turned off. Cooper said this would reduce the viewing of porn.
Giblin said he disagrees with putting filters on library computers. He said The National Organization for Women website would be blocked in some public libraries because they deal with breast cancer information.
“The filter program picks up the word breast and assumes it pornography,” Giblin said. “So going with commercial filtering has been no reliable standard.”
But Eileen Condon, senior associate dean of Emerson Library, said the computers do have pop-up blockers that probably stop some of the viewing. She said staff members have discussed different solutions for the issue but are hesitant to carry out plans.
“We talked about seeing if there’s a way to shut a browser down after inactivity,” Condon said. “We’re afraid that if we do this, it may cause people to lose research and we don’t want to cause more problems.”
The policy supports freedom of expression for all members of the university and seminary communities, as well as guests from the general public. It states, rights must be balanced with the need to provide an educational and working environment free of harassment. It also states displaying potentially offensive or sexually explicit materials intended to demean persons of a particular gender, race, creed, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation in this space may create a hostile learning or working environment. The display violates library, university, and seminary policies and federal law.
Rein said they have not received any complaints of people viewing pornography lately, and she encourages students to report it.
“We understand that it could be really upsetting to have to view,” Rein said. “Students can file complaints anonymously too.”