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Porn in library startles patrons

By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent

January 06. 2012 11:08PM
A sign outlines some of the rules for use of the public computers at the Dudley-Tucker Library in Raymond, but the director says the library’s policy doesn’t address accessing pornography. (JASON SCHREIBER)
PLAISTOW - Workers at the Plaistow Public Library got a surprise last week when a printer began spitting out pages of pornography.

It turns out a library patron printed the pages off a computer used by the public, but never collected them at the printer before it ran out of paper. Library Director Diane Arrato Gavrish said some of the pages were discovered by library staff shortly before closing Dec. 29. The pages were found sitting in the printer, waiting to be picked up, but the person who printed them had left.

Gavrish said a staffer locked the pages in a drawer and filled out an incident report, but the next morning more pages began spewing out when a library maintenance worker added paper to the printer at the circulation desk.

Police were notified of the incident, but Deputy Police Chief Kathleen Jones said no crime was committed because the images involved adult pornography, which isn't illegal.

Still, the incident has raised questions about how public libraries handle Internet use.

Librarians say they're not in the business of monitoring what people do on library computers, and most don't have filters to censor Web sites. However, they say patrons must be responsible and need to keep off sites that could be offensive to others around them.

'We're always amazed at how bold some people are,' Gavrish said.

Like most libraries, the Plaistow library has a policy spelling out the rules for Internet use.

The policy states that use of library computers to access obscene material, child pornography or material that is harmful to minors is prohibited. Violators can have their Internet session terminated and be banned from future Internet use.

Gavrish said she plans to address the issue with library trustees Monday night to see how they want to handle it if the patron with a penchant for pornography returns.

'We felt that by printing and then leaving them in the library without picking them up, it was almost a challenge for the staff. Someone had to take those copies out of the printer. We were definitely surprised at how many pages were printed,' she said.

Gavrish said she's been director for about a year and in that time has had to speak to only a few people who were accessing what were believed to be inappropriate sites.

'We don't police them unless a patron comes up and says the person next to them is looking at a site and they're feeling uncomfortable,' she said. 'In most libraries I've been in the feeling is it's a public library and we're not here to monitor what people do. We're here to provide access to free information. We just don't feel it's up to us to decide what people can look at.'

While no crime was committed, Plaistow police said they would still like to know who printed the images so they can run the name through the sex offender registry because some offenders aren't allowed to be viewing pornography.

'It could be a violation of their registry status,' Jones said.

The Hampstead Public Library has a similar policy stating that graphically explicit sexual images or images that may reasonably be construed by library staff as offensive to the public may not be viewed.

Debra Hiett, Hampstead library director, said she's not aware of any problems related to inappropriate use.

The New Hampshire State Library also has an Internet acceptable use policy that says it doesn't censor legal activities. It also has an Internet disclaimer stating: ' The State Library has no control over the materials found on the Internet. The library cannot censor your access to material nor protect you from information you find offensive, controversial or inappropriate.'

Plaistow isn't the only library that's had to deal with questionable Internet use.

The Dudley Tucker Library in Raymond had to speak to a man a couple of years ago after parents with young children walked by him on their way to the children's room and felt uncomfortable because he was viewing sites with women's underwear.

'The parents were a little upset that the children were exposed to that,' said Linda Hoelzel, library director.

In light of the Plaistow incident, Hoelzel said she plans to bring the issue up at the Raymond library's next trustee meeting because she couldn't find a policy on the books with rules prohibiting access to pornographic sites.

Portsmouth Public Library Director Mary Ann List said some patrons there have been told not to view certain sites, but so far no one has been banned from Internet use.

'We're a shared space and people have to behave in such a way. Information for one person could be offensive to another person,' she said. 'Your rights are your rights and the library is dedicated to people getting the information they need. However, if what you're doing is inappropriate for other people around you then the library isn't the place to do that.'


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