A Gig Harbor mother was shocked last week when she spotted a man watching porn on a Pierce County Library computer.
“I took my second grade daughter to the Gig Harbor library tonight to print something for her homework assignment,” Kaeley Haver posted on a Gig Harbor Facebook page. “When we got over to the printing section, we were unpleasantly surprised to find (a man) openly watching porn on an easily visible computer without any regard whatsoever for the kids walking by.”
The Facebook post generated more than 100 comments from Gig Harbor residents who wondered how someone can get away with watching explicit material in a public space mainly used by families.
The man could do that because he was within his legal rights, Pierce County Library spokeswoman Mary Getchell said. Since libraries are public government entities, supported by taxpayer money, they can’t restrict the information rights of their patrons, she said.
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“Information that one person may want or seek may well be different than what another may want or seek,” Getchell said, but the library system has its “hands tied” when it comes to a person’s right to access to information.
Nevertheless, the system works to protect children from being exposed to graphic material, she said.
Under the federal Child Internet Protection Act, libraries can restrict and filter websites used by child patrons, and Pierce County Libraries, does Getchell said. Children up to 17 receive filtered access to the internet on library computers, she said.
“It filters pornography, violence and chat rooms,” Getchell said. “It may be a website that has a chat capacity, like so many of your retail entities. So those are all blocked for children and teenagers.”
The computers filter the internet based on the library card used to access the internet. The computers in the teen and children’s area of the libraries are filtered no matter what age the user is, Getchell said.
The libraries also try to provide screen blockers and other measures to allow internet users to have privacy and to keep other patrons from seeing anything on the screen, she said.
“If there is the instance that someone walked by and brought an issue to staff’s attention, then library staff would work to move the individual who is viewing that material to another area in the library where someone won’t walk by and view it,” Getchell said.
And, at the end of each day, the system “scrubs” the internet usage of its computers, she said.
“We don’t see what sites people are on,” she said. “That’s the privacy of the individual.”
If anyone was found watching something illegal or participating in illegal activity on the library’s computer, the library would contact local law enforcement and ban the individual from the computer, Getchell said.
State Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, joined the Facebook conversation started by Haver after speaking with the branch manager at the Gig Harbor library.
“I am considering running a bill next year to prevent people from accessing pornography in libraries,” Caldier posted on the Facebook group.
Her office did not respond to requests for additional comments.
Though library patrons have a variety of viewing habits, people watching offensive material such as porn near children doesn’t happen often, Getchell said.
“It does seem like a rare issue, to have this all the sudden bubble up,” she said. “... Is this something that everyday someone brings to our attention? No.”
In general, Getchell said, the system works “very, very directly with each and every person who uses the library, so each and every person can have an experience at the library that they want.”
Still, she said, it was unfortunate Haver and her daughter felt uncomfortable.
“There are stuff that people view that I wouldn’t want to see, and I wouldn’t want small children to see, but that’s a personal choice,” Getchell said. “We don’t want that personal choice to offend another person. So we take every step we can to make sure there is an enjoyable experience for every single person.”