municipal jack-off booths, with books and newspapers.

This will not come as a surprise to the World’s Most Dangerous Librarian, but public libraries all over the country are facing a problem:

Homeless people increasingly use the public library as a day shelter.  Some of them use the library computers to surf for porn.  Some of those who surf for porn will engage in, um, manual gratification while they’re looking at said porn.  A smaller subset of the homeless population consists of convicted sex offenders, who are now in close proximity to children using the library.   A few of those sex offenders use the opportunity to re-offend.

This particular issue is a fine example of the complexity and intermingled nature of civil liberties, personal rights, public access, and public policy.  It’s also a great example of why the emotional, shoot-from-the-hip response to such problems may be gratifying, but in most cases wrong.

If you polled a few people on the street on the issue, you’d probably get a few different suggestions for fixing the “smelly homeless jerking off in the lie-berry” issue, but the Man on the Street response usually has a few problems attached to it.

Ban library access for the homeless.

The problem: Homeless people are members of the public, and as such entitled to the use of public facilities.  Banning homeless people specifically would mean blanket state discrimination against a group, which is legally problematic, to put it mildly.

Then just ban the use of the library for people who don’t pay taxes!

Homeless people pay taxes.  They buy stuff, which generates sales tax revenue for the city and state.  Technically, they are financing the library, too.

Okay, ban the use of the library for people who don’t pay income taxes!

True, homeless people pay no income taxes because they have no income.  But welfare recipients, children, and low wage earners qualifying for EIC don’t pay income taxes, either, and that segment of the population is most in need of the services provided by the library.

Then turn off the Internet on library computers, or get rid of the computers altogether.

See previous point: that would mean turning off the Internet for non-homeless people who don’t have the cash for a computer and a DSL subscription. Also, you won’t get rid of the homeless (who are coming for a warm spot and entertainment), just keep them from browsing the web.

How about we just put filters on the library computers, then?

Content filters are not only notoriously unreliable (try searching for breast cancer resources on a filtered machine, for example), but they’re also an infringement on the rights of the people who don’t use those machines inappropriately.  You’re basically censoring the information for all library users because some misuse the service.  It’s like limiting every gun owner to ten-round magazines because a small subset of them misuse their guns.

Don’t let sex offenders use libraries, then.

That will be a tricky one to enforce.  The librarians are already ill-equipped and -trained to deal with homeless people who may have substance abuse or mental issues–now we want to extend their job description to play police, too?  Besides, unless you have a security checkpoint at the door (and who wouldn’t want to make a trip to the library just like boarding an international flight?), that method relies on voluntary compliance and aggressive monitoring, and won’t keep the determined offenders out of the place.

I have a right to use the library without having to sit next to a smelly vagrant with mental health problems.

Actually, you don’t have that right, because it’s not codified into law.  It’s good manners to not inflict your odors and lack of hygiene on your seat neighbor, whether you’re in a library, a bar, or an airplane, but that’s called “being considerate”, and there are no laws in place that give you the right to not have to endure certain odors from other people.

So there you have it.  Libraries have a problem: homeless people, some with mental or substance abuse issues–and some with sex offender histories–using the place as a warm day shelter (and sometimes jack-off booth) while the homeless shelters are closed for the day.  Popular shoot-from-the-hip responses create more problems than they solve.

How do we handle that problem without trampling either on the rights of the homeless, or the rights of other library patrons?  How do we find a rational, even-handed, and impartial solution?

What’s your take on the issue?

34 thoughts on “municipal jack-off booths, with books and newspapers.

  1. way back before that librarian became quite so dangerous -like, eleven months ago- she said this:

    http://thebredafallacy.blogspot.com/2008/04/ding-ding-ding.html

    to which i responded in my typical wordy and anecdotal fashion:

    http://poetnthepawnbroker.blogspot.com/2008/04/allen.html

    nothing’s changed, except perhaps the lady’s attitude towards me, which we won’t go into right now.

    jtc

  2. Desertrat says:

    Now that we’re no longer subject to the fiscal restraint of the Bush era, why not create jobs by adding shower facilities to libraries, and hire supervisory personnel to ensure cleaniness and safety therein? Seems to me it would fit right in with present public policy.

    If the software boffins can do voice recognition and filters for words and all that esoteric computer magic, it seems to me to be easy enough to set up library computers to have the screen flash, “Porn!” if somebody accesses such a site. The word gets around, “Nah, you can’t do that, there.”

    Beyond that? Gotta think about it some more.

    Art

  3. crankylitprof says:

    Armed goon squads patrolling the libraries. (Or, given that the World’s Most Dangerous Librarian is among the minority — most librarians are liberal weenies who are afraid of guns — give ’em tazers. Or bad-assed clubs.)

    Hey, Mighty Zero wanted to create an armed civilian cadre for minor community policing…this is the opportunity!

    Seriously, though — this is one of the reasons I won’t take my kids to the very large, very beautiful Free Libraries in Philly. I’m angry about ceding them to the barbarians, but I’m also not willing to subject y kids to verbal, physical or sexual assault.

  4. Reese says:

    I wonder what the response would be if the public libraries filtered and blocked porn. At my public libraries, there are large signs that say, “All internet activity is monitored. The viewing of pornographic or inappropriate material may be cause to prevent you from further use of internet services” or something to that affect. Since the internet use is tied to your library card, they know what you’ve viewed and can lock you out. I don’t know if it’s happened but (according to the librarians) it hasn’t been a problem.

  5. Sevesteen says:

    Not all of this can be solved, but surfing for porn should be able to be vastly reduced. Make Internet access a “shall issue” privilege, but one that can be revoked for cause. Filtering should be used, but with the ability to bypass–However, if someone is bypassing, their use may be looked at more closely.

  6. perlhaqr says:

    ObAnarchist — Privatise the libraries, then let them choose and enforce whatever entrance rules they like.

  7. Breda says:

    I agree with perlhaqr – private libraries, please!!

  8. Bruce H. says:

    Ditto perlhaqr. A well ordered society would not have tax funded libraries.

  9. Jay G. says:

    There’s a very simple and elegant solution to this problem.

    Simply decriminalize battery for any parent or other adult who catches one of these miscreants in the act.

    When “Jerk off in the library” turns into “Mongo the human piñata” and the people responsible don’t go to jail, it’ll put a damper on the ol’ self-lovin’ right quick…

  10. Chris Byrne says:

    There’s a reason why it’s called “the tragedy of the commons”.

    You simply cannot effectively prevent a commonly held resource from being abused, without unjustly infringing on the rights of legitimate users.

  11. Kristopher says:

    This wasn’t a problem a few decades ago.

    Felons have abbreviated civil rights … fine. Felons only get to use civil court with a judge’s permission.

    Decriminalize battery against these idjits, and hire tougher librarians, and arm them.

    CLP’s notion of tazers has merit, as well JayG’s.

    Tune these morons up, and don’t let them sue afterwards … and we can have our libraries back.

    The commons works just fine when someone actually owns it … in this case, the library staff.

  12. Tam says:

    “To label something as ‘public’ is to define it as filthy, insufficient, and dangerous. The ultimate paradigm of public spending is the public restroom.” -P.J. O’Rourke.

    Remind me again why my tax dollars go to making sure that people can check out the latest Danielle Steel novels and Beyonce concert DVD’s?

  13. Lissa says:

    I’m with CrankyProf and Jay G, here. First time’s a warning, second time is an ejection-from-premises-with-warning, and third time you get to play Whack-a-Mole.

  14. “Remind me again why my tax dollars go to making sure that people can check out the latest Danielle Steel novels and Beyonce concert DVD’s?”

    because somebody gets to choose what makes the cut, of course.

    privatization is the only path to perfection; maybe blockbuster will go for it…last i heard they had a lot of available space for rentamedia. anybody up for two bucks a day to borrow the latest mustreads? no?

    well, then…next idea is sort of a: homeland security; library detail…”hey, you! git yer browser off that hun link or i’ll blow yer f’n head off!”

    yeah, that might work.

    jtc

  15. samsam says:

    The folks being described here aren’t using the library for its intended purpose. Why not lure them elsewhere. Find some prostitutes tired of the private sector who wish to enter into government service. They can get stimulated in exchange for stimulating some homeless folk. Just locate the facility far, far away (but on a bus route).

    Yeah, it’s a stupid idea, but is it any stupider than the other stuff we’re spending Trillions on? Might even produce a positive effect.

  16. John Gall says:

    I’m surprised no one has suggested that solving the problem of homelessness would eliminate the “homeless’ viewing porn in library” problem. Consider it suggested.
    Also ignored is the fact that it isn’t just the homeless who view porn at libraries. Should everyone who views porn be subjected to various forms of violence? Even your son or daughter?

  17. Tam says:

    I’m surprised no one has suggested that solving the problem of homelessness would eliminate the “homeless’ viewing porn in library” problem.

    We’re all ears on your plan, there.

    I’m afraid that the homeless, like weevils, cloudy days, and Democrats, will always be with us.

    There have been pretty sophisticated attempts at banishing homelessness by various European leaders with funny-looking cookie dusters, but I don’t think they’d play too well in Peoria, despite their extreme efficiency.

  18. John Hardin says:

    Actually, you don’t have that right, because it’s not codified into law.

    Are you sure you want to make that assertion, Marko? Or do you not subscribe to the “natural rights” philosophy?

  19. Roberta X says:

    “Solve the homeless problem?” Well, okay, d00d, if you say so; but I’m gonna call in sick when it is my turn to shoot them.

  20. Kristopher says:

    Just how much regimentation are you going to inflict on someone who is an addict or is mentally ill in order to prevent “homelessness”?

    It would be kinder to just shoot them, than to let some little marxist like you run their lives for them at gun-point, all for their own good, of course.

    At least I am willing to leave them be provided they don’t annoy me.

  21. LittleRed1 says:

    One public library I used to frequent had two sets of computers – unfiltered, in a separate room attached to the geneology section, and filtered, in the main common area. You had to be over 16 to use the unfiltered computers, and you got a PIN to go with the number on your card. The librarians also kept an eye on unaccompanied adults lingering in the kiddy book section. The system seemed to work pretty well while I was a customer.
    I don’t know how the librarians handled grade-schoolers who wanted to do research on a potentially filtered topic. I didn’t ask.

  22. ChrisB says:

    Issue library cards by mail to community members who apply for them, and restrict library use to those with a card. 99% of the homeless won’t bother.

    You can also just call the cops on anyone who is visibly intoxicated and arrest them for public drunkenness. After not being able to use any bathroom stalls the other day at the train station because drunken homeless bums were passed out in them with bottles of booze in their hands I’m rather short on sympathy right now.

  23. Sara says:

    I’d vote for the filters, along with the scanning of a library card to access the computer. I understand that some filters don’t work as well as others, but I believe a number of them work quite well at filtering filth.

  24. The children’s library at our local branch is off-limits to adults who are not accompanying children. You have to have a library card to use the computers at any Clark County Library District branch, and you have to verify your address every year to renew your card. They also have this rule:

    Oh, and we do have armed security guards, too.
    I actually enjoy going to the library, and my daughter volunteers at our local branch every Sunday.

  25. lv4921391 says:

    public libraries are wonderful when used for their intended purpose….several years ago I had a scheduled appointment in another city, arrived early so went to the library to sit and read till the time arrived…it was a rainy day…hence the early arrival for me …unfortunately the homeless had already arrived and the chair I occupied was still warm from one of them using it…caught a vicious
    case of Scabies…

  26. Bob says:

    Some easy some hard…
    Surfing porn is a problem not limited to the homeless- its a problem with little John & Judy Jrs as well. Ask any University Librarian.

    Security costs money – Libraries do not have money. Having a City Security Officer is an expensive alternative if its even available. Off duty LEO’s are even more expensive.

    Since most municipalities have no policy other than “We don’t want them here.” The homeless are forced to fend for themselves, under the radar. Shelters, if you can get into one, are for the most part only open at night. And they range from good to appalling. This leads to the question where do you go during the day if you can’t go home. As an exercise in understanding [wasted breath with this crowd I know] get a blanket roll, a backpack or other carrier, make sure you have only 2$ in change (no credit cards), and go spend the day downtown. For more realism do this on the weekend starting on Friday evening and ending Sunday afternoon. By the way if you belong to church, go there for Sunday services. After church you can go home and go back the being home person.

  27. Robert says:

    “but they’re also an infringement on the rights of the people who don’t use those machines inappropriately”

    “Actually, you don’t have that right, because it’s not codified into law. It’s good manners to not inflict your odors and lack of hygiene on your seat neighbor, whether you’re in a library, a bar, or an airplane, but that’s called “being considerate”, and there are no laws in place that give you the right to not have to endure certain odors from other people. ”

    Wait. What? You have the right to search the internet as you please, but you don’t have the right to go somewhere and not have your senses assaulted? I don’t get it.

  28. Eric Hammer says:

    Robert, you don’t have the right to never be offended ever is the point. You don’t have the right to have someone drug off by an officer for smelling badly to you in a public place. That’s the price for being in public: sometimes the people there will annoy you.

    I am inclined to wonder if used book stores might not take the place of libraries some day. With a proper guaranteed return policy set up (accounting for wear among other things) one might be able to set up sort of a borrow system where people buy the book, then can sell it back for 50% the price or something.
    Then again, getting books on Amazon used is so cheap it might not be worth the bother for anything other than socializing with the owner.

  29. Tam says:

    Bob,

    As an exercise in understanding [wasted breath with this crowd I know]

    I think the “check assumptions” light on your dashboard is blinking. I got my understanding of being homeless by sleeping on park benches because I was, you know, homeless, not doing some whitebread suburbanite armchair sociology project.

    Y’know what? Life still isn’t fair. Still, it’s cheaper to buy a helmet than it is to line the world with Nerf foam…

  30. Bob says:

    Tam,
    You’re so right “life isn’t fair”. Most people who live in the US of A do not live at or below the poverty line, and most have never been homeless. This isn’t about you, it’s about those blessed without any experience poverty.

  31. ‘Shoot from the hip’ approach?

    Hmmm… Sumdood is choking his chicken at the computer next to my daughter at the library and I walk up on him?

    Thin ice, I know, but at what point does a father draw the line and axe hisself, “When is he going to stop looking at the screen and start looking at my daughter?”

    Just sayin…

  32. Robert says:

    Eric,

    I understand that, but what I was getting at is Marko stated that I have no right to not be offended because it has not been codified into law. Last time I checked, there was no law that said I can look at whatever I want to look at on a public computer (actually, I think the laws against profanity and in favor of decency in public tend to lean the opposite way. I can’t define it, but I’ll know it when I see it and all that).

  33. Marko says:

    I didn’t say you had no right not to be offended. I said you had no right to not having to share the library with a smelly homeless guy, unless that right has been written into law or policy.

    You have the right to be offended by anything you may find offensive. That right, however, does not automatically carry with it the right to get rid of the offending thing/program/person, just the right to change the channel/leave the room.

  34. MarkHB says:

    Fairly easy then.

    Big signs saying “No Porn, No Playing With Yourself, No Rude Behaviour as decided by the Staff. Immediate ejection as penalty”.

    Then you just have to deal with everyone who mis-read “ejection”.

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