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(February 24, 2000, Gazette)

Librarian outlines policy

Dear Editor,
I read with considerable interest the Student View in the Feb. 10, 2000, issue of the
Gazette by Kelley Power (www.spare_me_the_porn.com).
The library, in all its branches, follows Memorial’s policy on appropriate use, as do all computer labs and other public computing facilities on campus. The policy is published on Memorial’s Web page at
www.mun.ca/comptroller/policy/appropri.htm. We post both the policy and the means of enforcing that policy near each terminal.

“Enforcement: If you are engaging in inappropriate activity, you will be given one warning. Should you continue, you will be asked to leave the library. Security will be notified if you do not comply.”)

It is not clear to me that a policy forbidding pornography in the library would accomplish the ends that Ms. Power wishes to a greater extent than the current policy does. Such a policy would rest on two pillars: the definition of pornography and the willingness of offended individuals to report infractions to library staff. The first of these is problematic as different individuals will define the term differently. I have heard discussions in which the terms “soft pornography” and “hard pornography” have been used, but I admit that I am not certain how the distinction is made. In a recent issue of the Telegram the distinction was made between pornography and erotica. Again, I am not certain that I understand the distinction, although it is obvious that the speakers think that they do in each case.

Were questions of definition to have been dealt with satisfactorily, the concrete situation would remain unchanged. Enforcement would depend on a willingness of one individual to bring another individual’s behaviour to the attention of the appropriate staff while the infraction was in progress.

Ms. Power based her article not on direct experience, but on a posting on the library’s bulletin board. She is apparently willing to accept someone else’s definition of pornography without question. (The posting in question seems to have vanished, so I have not been able to consult it.) Further, the offended individual did not take the step that any policy would require for effectiveness: a timely notification of staff.

We have considered, briefly, the sort of software often touted for public libraries, but have rejected the option on three grounds. First, sexuality is a legitimate area of study. Second, such software is notorious for preventing access to sites that are not related to sexuality. Ultimately, all such programs are also capable of being disabled or avoided by those with sufficient interest in doing so.

To my mind, the present policy avoids the pitfalls and narrowness inherent in attempting to “forbid pornography in the library” (there are other offensive graphics, after all) and concentrates rightly on the comfort of members of our community. If that focus is problematic in some respects, it is at least aimed at the heart of the matter.

Richard H. Ellis
University Librarian


Issues taken seriously

Dear Editor,
I am writing in response to Kelley Power’s Student View column in the issue of the
Gazette dated Feb. 10, which I have just read. I should emphasize that as a former member of the Steering Committee on Academic Computing, I was one of the authors of the university’s policy on Acceptable Use of Computing Facilities, but that I do not speak for the university, nor for Computing and Communications.

Ms. Power raises some very important issues in her column, and it is regrettable that she gives the impression that these issues were not taken seriously when the acceptable use policy was drafted. It appears that Ms. Power read the rather tersely worded policy itself but that she did not consult the more extensive illustrative examples contained in the companion document Questions and Answers about Appropriate Use of Computing Facilities. Had she done so, she would have found that Question 5 (“What constitutes offensive use?”) gives the following as one of its examples: “Use of publicly accessible facilities to display material which is likely to conflict with the sensibilities of other users, whether such material is in the form of text, image, sound or other digitized data.” Question 16 goes on to define what is meant by “publicly accessible facilities”, and Question 17 (“What sorts of material should I refrain from displaying in publicly accessible areas?”) addresses Ms. Power’s point directly:

“Many users are likely to find the display of sexually explicit, vulgar or blasphemous material offensive in a public place. As a result, you should take steps to ensure that visual, textual, and audible material of a sexually explicit nature, or material likely to offend the religious or moral beliefs of others users is not displayed in publicly accessible areas, unless you are able to take steps to ensure that other users are not disturbed by your actions. This is similar to saying that you should not talk loudly or play loud sounds in public work areas, as these activities are likely to interfere with the work of other users.”

In other words, the authors of the policy were concerned with making it perfectly clear that users do have responsibilities, and that these responsibilities do include the kinds of concerns raised by Ms. Power. To suggest otherwise, in my view, is to misrepresent the nature of the policy. Far from just sitting tight and looking fixedly at their own monitors when these situations arise, I would suggest that members of the university community confront persons who abuse the appropriate use policy.

Sincerely,
Dr. David Graham
Department of French and Spanish