It wasn’t quite an old-fashioned book burning, but the March 27 meeting of the Sacramento Public Library Authority Board had some of the same spirit. At issue was the library system’s current policy of requiring Internet content for library patrons. Adults get filtered access unless they specifically ask for unfiltered. Minors need written permission from a parent to turn the filters off.
The American Civil Liberties Union, local educators and health professionals want the filters turned off, because they’re clumsy and sometimes “overblock” valuable information about health and sexuality. And they argue most of the material is constitutionally protected, even if it is distasteful to some.
Religious and conservative groups, along with their supporters on the library board, are pushing for all filters, all the time for all library patrons.
“Have some backbone. Stand up for the families in this region, not for predators that the ACLU seems so interested in protecting,” said Matthew McReynolds with the Pacific Justice Institute, a law firm with a long history of battling against gay rights.
The current policy also requires librarians to ask patrons to change screens if they are viewing something that “would interfere with the maintenance of a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment.” Critics say the rules are unconstitutionally broad (see “Your rights take hard lefts,” SN&R Bites, March 20).
But the ACLU was far outnumbered at the hearing by those who favor greater censorship. (Library administrators sent invitations to those who had previously complained about Internet content.) Many accused the ACLU of trying to bring porn into the library.
County Supervisor and library board member Roger Dickinson told SN&R after the meeting that the matter got on the agenda because of a couple of the more conservative board members wanted to try and tighten restrictions on Internet content. But the library board decided not to take action last week, deferring the matter to a later date.
Dickinson told SN&R he’s “sick of talking about it.” He noted that there have only been a handful of complaints about other library patrons looking at inappropriate content, and it strikes him that it would be tough to tell what another patron is viewing without looking over their shoulder. “It’s seems to me like you’d have to try awfully hard to be offended,” he said.
Apparently some of his fellow board members have made just such an effort, because they seemed mightily disturbed. Among them is Sophia Scherman, who is running for re-election to the Elk Grove City Council on the slogan “Protecting Elk Grove’s values.”
“Pull down those sites! Clean them up!” Scherman suggested before leaving the meeting for another engagement. “It would probably break every rule in the book, but I’d say go and unplug every computer in every library.”
It was the biggest applause line of the night.