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Originally published Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 8:54 PM

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Library right not to ban porn: Once a ban starts, it's hard to stop

When the right-wing Second Amendment Foundation teamed up with the left-wing First Amendment foundation to sue the Eastern Washington library system for filtering out gun websites, it serves as a case study as to why the Seattle Public Library was right last week when it said it wasn't going to do anything about Internet porn.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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There's not much titillating about Women & Guns magazine.

About as racy as it gets is a recent photo spread on "practical leather" — gun holsters and casual carry handbags for the lady who packs heat.

With articles like "Taming Shotgun Recoil" and "Ammunition on a Budget," nobody is likely to confuse it with porn.

But a few years back, the magazine's website, womenshooters.com, nevertheless got blocked by computers for the library system in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

Also known as "gun country."

"We couldn't believe it," says Dave Workman, an editor for the publisher, the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue. "In the middle of gun country, the libraries are blocking us?"

The intent, according to the North Central Regional Library in Wenatchee, was to block porn and other potentially offensive adult material from the straying eyes of children. Yet as often happens when government starts banning stuff, it didn't know where to stop.

Out was not only Women & Guns. But Soldier of Fortune. Myspace. Art sites. Many Web pages that had anything to do with drugs or alcohol.

That's how it came to pass that the right-wing Second Amendment Foundation teamed up with the left-wing First Amendment foundation — the American Civil Liberties Union — to sue the Eastern Washington library system for filtering too much (the suit is pending in federal court.)

It's also a case study, in my view, as to why the Seattle Public Library was right last week when it said it wasn't going to do anything about Internet porn.

After a mom and her kids saw a man watching hard-core sex on a computer at a Lake City branch, the libraries have been portrayed as if they're Roman baths under the reign of Caligula.

"Seattle Library Turns Porn Haven for Men," read the headline in a British paper last week.

Many mocked city librarians for having no moral, or common, sense. You can be kicked out of a library for going barefoot but not for porn? Some commenters at The Seattle Times website suggested suing the library to force it to clean up its act.

"They are protecting perverts over the kids," one wrote.

It is off-putting what some people do with library computers. Once I was in the tiny Madrona branch with my kids and my mother — who is a librarian herself — when we were confronted with someone watching what must have been a triple-X video.

"What should we do?" I whispered, worried my kids would see.

My mom was disgusted. But she only shrugged.

"There's nothing to do. Let's just move over there."

My mom has a librarian's heart. The principle of open access to all information, even if it offends, pumps in her veins. But most librarians also get that there's a powerful practical reason for letting in the rough with the smooth. It's that once we say, "We don't want you to look at that," what follows, inevitably, will be "or that, or that or maybe also that."

I would be fine if we banned porn from the library. The problem is we wouldn't stop there.

Says Dave Workman: "I could definitely see someone wanting the libraries in Seattle to ban gun sites. To some people around here, gun is a four-letter word!"

Others have said the libraries could set up "adult-content" areas. But those would probably turn into dedicated porn-viewing stations. Talk about creepy. Maybe they could be sponsored by Ricks strip club?

No, the Seattle Public Library has it right. Let it all in. That's not clean or comforting. But it's free and better than any alternative.

Also, when the gun nuts and civil-liberties nuts join hands in common cause, that's a strong sign this issue is way more trouble than it's worth.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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