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Turns out, anyone with a library card, a shuddering lack of shame and an IQ just high enough to click a mouse can plop his butt down at one of the local library’s computers and do whatever the heck he feels like doing. So long as it’s legal.
Porn, of course, is legal. It is also available online, we hear.
And so it went a couple of Monday afternoons ago at the West Charleston library.
Lisa Racine was there with her kids. She’s always there with her kids.
“We’re big readers,” she explained.
The kids — four of them, ages 5 to 12 — aren’t in school right now, and you can only watch the Veggie Tales movies so many times. So, the library.
It was about 4:30 that Monday afternoon, Racine said. They’d just left the kiddie area and were headed over to fiction, where Racine was going to get herself something to read.
Then, she glanced. Nudity. Sex. Moving pictures, zooming in on a woman’s parts and such. A man in a red T-shirt and a blue ball cap. Watching.
Racine turned away. She ushered the kids out of harm’s way. She approached two librarians.
Umm, she said, can you stop that man?
No, she said they told her, we cannot. There was something said about the First Amendment.
Would you mind if I ask him to stop? she asked. Go ahead, the librarians said understandingly, but we don’t think he’s going to.
Racine approached the ball cap man, deep into his porn, now a naked woman dancing the way naked women dance in Internet videos.
She tapped him on the shoulder.
“Do you realize there are children and other people all around?”
“Leave. Me. Alone!” ballcap said. He flailed his arm. He seemed angry. He went back to his porn.
Racine warned the nearby moms and left.
“I was so upset,” said Racine, 37, who moved to Las Vegas about three years ago. “I was shaking inside.”
She complained to more than just the librarians. She called the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s Board of Trustees. She wrote to the newspaper.
It is about all she can do.
Pat Marvel, a library district spokeswoman, said the district doesn’t restrict what adults can look at on the computers, just like there aren’t restrictions on which books adults can check out.
“If a parent is walking their child around the adult computer section, it is likely — it is possible — for that child to be exposed to something that parent doesn’t want their child to see,” Marvel said.
She said the libraries have children’s sections, where the computers have safety filters on them. And children are not allowed to use the computers in the adult section without written parental permission.
“We don’t tell adults what they can look at,” Marvel said.
She called what happened to Racine “an unfortunate collision,” and said the libraries do not have enough space to physically separate the adult computers from any area where a child might be walking by.
The library district follows guidelines from the American Library Association. That group is a staunch advocate of fully open libraries.
The district’s Internet policy states, in part:
“The Library District cannot be held responsible for the content of the Internet. Not all information found on the Internet is accurate, complete, up-to-date, and/or legally or philosophically acceptable to all individuals.”
Marvel explained that library officials would put a stop to illegal activity, such as identity theft or child pornography, if they became aware of it.
They won’t censor nudity.
But they could if they wanted to. Other libraries do.
Stephen Bates, a communications professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who teaches media law, said a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case established that libraries are allowed to use filters if they choose to.
“A library could definitely install filtering software,” he said. “It could create an adult section separate from the rest.”
He said filtering software has been known to block access to legitimate sites, so that’s a weakness. He also acknowledged that a separate adult section has its limitations.
“There is no perfect solution,” he said.
He noted that it is illegal in Nevada to expose a minor to inappropriate material. But the law makes a specific exception for libraries.
None of this makes sense to Racine.
She points out that her kids couldn’t get into an R-rated movie. They can’t go into an adult bookstore or a strip club. They can’t even buy a nudie magazine at the gas station.
Yet, they could potentially see much worse at the library.
So now, she believes she must police things. She’ll have to steer the kids around the computers, just in case.
She’ll be “extra, extra careful.”
“That’s my job as a parent.”
Which is exactly what Marvel, the library spokeswoman, said too.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.