I work for Fort Vancouver Regional Library as a fiction selector; it is also my public library. My husband Mario and I moved to the area in 1987 because I accepted a job as a branch librarian with the library district. I wanted to work here because Fort Vancouver Regional Library was renowned across the nation for its stance on Intellectual Freedom issues and its protection of the rights of patrons. Many of the librarians chose to work here for exactly the same reasons. I even commended Fort Vancouver Regional Library's board in the acknowledgements for my novel Coyote Cowgirl. I wrote, "Thanks to the board and staff of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library and the boards and staffs of public libraries throughout the country who courageously defend the Bill of Rights and protect our intellectual freedoms daily." That was in 2003. I don’t think I would write the words quite that way now.
I have disagreed with the Board and the administration before, of course. It is not necessary or productive for an organization to have everyone agreeing with everyone else. In fact, if everyone is always in agreement, there might be something wrong with an organization: people are afraid to speak their minds or diversity of opinion is not honored or relished. But I was shocked and appalled by your latest decision to filter all internet computers. I heard the director on the radio justify this position by saying this community is more conservative than Portland so this kind of censorship is acceptable. (First, I’d like to know specifically what community? Our district is made up of many communities.)
As I told the director in a letter to him about this, you are sliding down a slippery slope. With CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) you stepped onto it, now you’re sliding. The people who wanted this are not going to stop with this. They have an agenda. It feels like you wanted new buildings so much that you gave into blackmail. You gave up the values this organization has held dear and worked hard to uphold for all these years. It feels like politics; that nothing is of value; all is open to negotiation. If I was asked to vote for new buildings now, I wouldn’t vote for them. I don’t want to pay taxes to government institutions that want to suppress, repress, and/or infringe on my freedoms. And what if you get your buildings now? Was the price worth it? Because I say again, they won’t stop. Eventually they will go after the books. And if you don’t have your buildings by then, are you going to let them burn the books?
I think an intellectual argument can be made for not having internet in libraries. I think this is a discussion nationwide that librarians and library boards have not had. But the argument against having internet wouldn’t have anything to do with “pornography.” As professionals, we select materials for our libraries based on our mission statements. When we (those of us in the library profession) brought internet into libraries it was done almost uncritically. Yet library workers all over the country will tell you that many of the patrons using internet are checking their e-mail. One librarian said to me, “It’s like having a bunch of phone booths in your library.” I thought that was apropos. Since there are many invaluable information tools available on the internet, perhaps library professionals should have been working on a way to select internet sites for their patrons the way we select other resources. That argument for either not having the internet or selecting particular sites on the internet is a valid argument. Saying we are going to filter because we don’t want patrons looking at particular sites like pornography isn’t a valid intellectual argument.
For one thing, this decision is a poor solution to a problem we don’t even have. Except for perhaps an isolated incident here or there, we don’t have a “problem” with people on the internet looking at porn. In other words, if they are looking, nobody knows.
But you’ve made this decision and you expect us to figure out a way to filter pornography and monitor it. How are you going to define pornography? Someone in administration said that meant full frontal nudity. What about a photograph of the statue David? What about books about sex that have illustrations? What about art books? What about a million other things?
We are supposed to be serving our community, not kowtowing to a verbal minority that has some kind of religious conservative agenda. Those of us who work in libraries are here to serve the patrons, not judge them. We are here to protect their liberties, not constrain them.
The idea that libraries are supposed to be safe places is a ridiculous one. A good library has something to offend everyone. In a free society, we are willing to be offended. We don’t censor, riot, threaten, or make laws to make certain we aren’t offended. We accept being offended as part of being a member of a free society.
Have you read the Library Bill of Rights lately? It states that "materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval....Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas."
What about the ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement? It says, among other things, that "what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours."
Asking the staff to monitor what people are reading or looking at in our libraries is against everything we stand for. We have a Code of Ethics which says we will "protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted." Our interactions with patrons and what they read are private transactions, and we protect these transactions by not divulging what the patron is reading—to anyone.
I applaud the board members who voted against filtering all the internet computer. The rest of you did not serve your community well. You might get your shiny new buildings, but Fort Vancouver Regional Library is no longer the institution it once was.
Kim Antieau's essays have been published frequently on several progressive websites. Her newest novel, Mercy, Unbound, is due out April 2006. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Weblog: http://furiousspinner.com.