For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
February 5, 1997 - Sex and the Net
There's an old joke about the guy who goes to a psychiatrist. "I want you to take a look at these ink blots," says the psychiatrist. "What do you see?"
The man looks at the first picture. "A man and a woman making love on a rock slide," he says. "It's pretty torrid."
"Hmm," says the psychiatrist. He shows the man a dozen more pictures. For each one, the man describes a very explicit sexual encounter.
Finally, the psychiatrist says, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to recommend some follow-up counseling. You seem to be utterly obsessed with sex."
"Me!" says the man. "You're the one with all the dirty pictures!"
The way I see it, librarians are mainly in the ink blot business. Although we do carry audiotapes, a smattering of CD's, and some videos, our primary stock is books. "Ink on a page" captures it pretty well.
To most of our patrons, the library is what it always was: a good place to find useful books and magazines for business, entertaining materials for families, and classic books for kids. They find, in general, the products of mainstream publishing.
To other folks, librarians are no longer the spinsters of popular stereotype; instead, we are purveyors of pornography. It's like the joke: if all you see is sex, then sex is all you see.
But there's a new kind of library information resource where sex isn't just in the mind of the beholder. On the Internet, it is undeniably true that there are many explicit, graphic depictions of sexual behavior.
How many? Even the famous (albeit subsequently discredited) Time Magazine article on "Cyberporn" (July 3, 1995) estimated that only about one-third of one percent of Internet traffic was pornographic. Subsequent studies suggest that this estimate was far too high. But we're still talking about a lot of images, and some of them are way out on the fringe.
The Internet is a challenge for librarians in several respects. Most significantly, what's "on the web" isn't like what's on the shelf. Every other library material was selected (or approved) by library staff, much as you might approve a magazine subscription for your family.
But the World Wide Web is more like TV broadcasting. Some of the fare is excellent, some you don't care about one way or the other, and some of it you don't want at all. But whether you want it or not, it's part of the broadcast.
In another couple of months, the library will set out our new, graphically-based, World Wide Web workstations. These truly are the "library terminals of tomorrow," offering far more information than we have ever been able to offer before.
Over the past months, the library has looked at the advantages and disadvantages of "filtering software." Such products (with names like "NetNanny" and "CYBERsitter") block access to Internet locations believed to contain inappropriate material for children. This software has its problems. For instance, a site that provides information on breast cancer might be blocked because of the word "breast." But we might use this software to provide a sprinkling of more "family friendly" workstations, where parents and children can at least sample the Internet.
But most of our terminals will not be so restricted. We will rely upon the good judgment of our patrons and parents. Better that, than try to decide ahead of time what isn't appropriate, and thereby deliberately cripple a powerful new tool for research.
Staff have also spent, and will continue to spend, a good deal of time creating "links" to authoritative information on the Internet. In a similar fashion, we use our computer catalog to guide patrons from one book to another.
Beyond that, however, the library intends to treat the Internet much as we do any other kind of library resource. We will use it to locate information for you. We will assist you in using it to find information for yourself. And we will continue to respect your privacy.
If you have thoughts on this issue, please feel free to contact me at 688-8752, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.