Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Long overdue

I'll be honest, the last time I willingly set foot in a library, the book I took out had a big ladybird on the front. So I'm pretty sure things have changed plenty since then.

For a start, libraries are a lot less busy than they used to be. Probably because reading isn't the popular pass-time it once was. The majority of people won't even pick up a book unless it's got Katie Price or one of the Loose Women on the dust jacket.

But one service libraries offer that keeps those swing doors flapping, is access to the internet. It's easy to forget that in this 3G world, many people don't even have dial-up. They also don't spend their time worrying that they're not getting the full download speed from their fiber-optic broadband.

When they need to set up a direct debit, order Christmas presents or catch up on You Tube footage of kittens falling asleep, they can head along to their local library, and for a small fee, enjoy all the wonders of Windows 98.

There is a catch though. Not all the things that people like to use the internet for are conducive to an open plan environment. For instance, it's tough to take matters into your own hands when you're three feet away from the woman who works in the dry cleaners, trying to pay her gas bill. Don't be judging - a recent study found that 25 per cent of all internet searches were for pornographic material.

If you're confident enough to go trawling for adult material in a public space, you might want to cross the Atlantic and get yourself a library card in Brooklyn. Because according to the protections of the First Amendment, New Yorkers are perfectly free to check out the latest bukkake compilations in the city's public libraries.

A report in the the New York Post explains "Under US law, all libraries that take federal funding only must install filters on publicly used computers to block content containing illegal obscenity and child pornography, and New York City officials say they comply to the letter."

Unsurprisingly, the self-appointed moral guardians aren't too happy about this, with Catholic League President Bill Donohue telling journalists "It's not like a Playboy centerfold anymore -- it's far worse." Likewise, some library-goers were turned off by the idea of people being able to access porn in public. One woman explained that she'd seen an elderly man watching footage of a threesome - he'd thoughtfully tried to block onlookers' views of the screen, "but I could still hear the voices" she said.

With government cutbacks threatening the future of our own library services, local authorities would do well to take a leaf out of Brooklyn's book. And as long as users remember to keep the noise down when they take something out, where's the harm?

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