Ode to Librarians
Posted on February 19, 2004 Posted by John Scalzi
One thing I love about librarians — aside from their natural inclination to think books are the coolest things ever — is that if you scratch their mild-mannered, book-shelving exteriors, you find fire-breathing proponents for the rights of the individual lashing back at you. Last night one of my librarian friends called me in an apoplexy about a new Ohio State Senate bill which would require filter use on computers similar to the one called for in the Federal CIPA act, and vented for several minutes about how these sorts of bills cut the feet out from under local librarians who — being local, after all — have a better grip on what their community standards are than politicians in Columbus, and required already overworked and underpaid librarians to add even more responsibilities to their list of things they have to do. My friend was wound up enough that if she were placed into the same room as Ohio State Senator Steve Austria (who put this bill out there) I fear that she would eat his very heart. I dig that about her, and among librarians, I don’t feel that she would be unusual in her heart-eating ways.
I went ahead and read the bill that Austria sent up. The library stuff is almost an aside; it’s largely concerned with making sure that no child anywhere is exposed to anything to do with porn, and adds to the existing law against selling kids porn the banning of providing kids with “pre-paid adult entertainment cards” which can be used to access porn on computers and, in a related maneuver, specifies “electronic communication” as a media from which one may not provide porn to minors.
To which I say: Fine, by all means, let’s root out the evil element in our society that purveys porn to teenagers and make today’s teens get their porn the old-fashioned way: From their old man’s stash. I mean, that’s the way I did it and the way everyone else I knew did it, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for the kids of today.
But I do have to wonder why Austria bothers with specifying “pre-paid adult entertainment cards” and “electronic communication” when the law as it exists already forbids folks the ability to “Directly sell, deliver, furnish, disseminate, provide, exhibit, rent, or present to a juvenile, a group of juveniles, a law enforcement officer posing as a juvenile, or a group of law enforcement officers posing as juveniles any material or performance that is obscene or harmful to juveniles.” Call me a grammatical stickler about this, but “any” already contains “electronic communication” as a subset, and providing cards whose only purpose is to allow people to cruise porn can be reasonably construed as “furnishing,” so I don’t really see the value of further specifying it.
Likewise, calling for additional filtering on Ohio’s library computers seems to me to be of little material benefit; Libraries that receive certain federal funds must already have filters on their computers, so what’s the point? Reading these sorts of bills always seems to suggest that our libraries have somehow turned into crack dens of iniquity, with deranged perverts and glazed-eyed teenage boys cruising stileproject.com while masturbating openly in the children’s section of the library. However, as a reasonably frequent patron of (and provider to) my local library, I’ve yet to see any of that, and I would imagine that should anyone attempt such a maneuver, the staff would be busy beating him to death with a shovel. Telling a librarian how to keep order in a library is like telling a mechanic how to change oil. They know, already.
If I were the King of Ohio, I would be benevolent and smite only those what need smiting, but more to the point in this case, I would make it a rule that any bills or amendments to laws forwarded for the primary purpose of allowing an elected state official to look like he’s keeping busy are to be summarily booted, and the official forwarding such a bill to be clouted about the head until he learns not to waste the taxpayer’s time and money. Senator Austria’s bill seems constructed primarily so that when he goes home to get re-elected, he can say at campaign pancake breakfasts that he “strengthened Ohio’s ability to stop smut from reaching our kids,” or however he will inevitably phrase it. But all he’s really doing is adding in busy work which the Ohio Library Council, for one, figures is likely to be unconstitutional. And all that will mean is that Ohio will have to spend money defending the law in court — money that could have gone to more useful endeavors, like, say, library funding.
Two things here: First, if you’re in Ohio, it might be worth your time to ask your State Senator (here’s mine) if he or she truly figures this sort of busybodiness is a genuinely good use of the Senate’s time, Ohio’s money, and librarians’ patience. Second, you might ask yourself who you trust more to keep your kids out of trouble in a library: a State Senator or the actual librarian standing behind a counter.
I spent a lot of time in the library as a kid, and I recall the librarians doing a pretty good job of keeping the kids in line. And I know personally that I would trust my librarian friend to do a better job steering my own child around a library than I would State Senator Steve Austria. My friend knows her job. I’m inclined to trust her to do it.
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