Mother challenges viewing of Internet porn at library; girl saw it
After her 10-year-old saw porn on a man's computer screen at the Lake City library, a mom objected — to the library and to the media.
Seattle Times staff reporter
She was so flabbergasted at what she saw on the computer screen at the Lake City branch library that Julie Howe, mom to two elementary-school girls, remembers the exact time.
The screen was displaying Internet porn of the very nasty kind, and it was showing up on a public computer readily seen by people in the area.
The monitor for this particular computer — there are 20 lined up on tables, offering free Internet access 90 minutes at a time — was right by the DVD collection.
It was 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22, during what was supposed to be a mom-and-kids outing to this neighborhood branch of the Seattle Public Library.
Howe later would email a manager at the library system about how her oldest daughter had reacted:
"I had a 10-year old crying in bed last night because she doesn't understand what she saw on the screen at the library where the man in the blue jacket was sitting, and it makes her feel weird & scared inside. This is not right."
In recent days, Howe has gone public with her concerns, and, once again, the Seattle Public Library is explaining that it is not in the censorship business.
The library does filter for content on computers in the children's section and says all monitors have privacy screens, says Andra Addison, spokeswoman for the library. But the screens still allow for "inadvertent viewing," she says.
And, although the state Supreme Court says that libraries have discretion about which Internet content to allow, the Seattle Public Library "believes in the right of each individual to have access to constitutionally protected material."
Addison says that the library is considering ways to deal with inadvertent viewing, such as that experienced by Howe and her daughters, by moving the popular DVD section elsewhere, for example.
Meanwhile, Howe, 44, who with her husband, Jens Strecker, own the Portalis wine shop and wine bar in Ballard, recounts what happened that Sunday.
Her two daughters were in the children's section, and Howe had wandered over to the DVD section to look for a movie.
To her left, in a direct line of sight, she was taken aback at what was on the monitor.
About the guy watching the porn, Howe says, "He probably looked around 60, a big guy, in a blue jacket."
She went to one of the librarians. She says the librarian explained that it protected people's access to information.
"I very graphically described what I saw. She was very sympathetic, but said there was nothing she could do," Howe says.
The mom says she decided to ask the man in the blue jacket to go view the porn on a computer that wasn't facing a public walking area.
"I tapped him on the shoulder. I leaned down and asked if he could move. He said, 'I'm almost done. Thirty more seconds.' "
Meanwhile, says Howe, her oldest daughter had walked over.
Howe remembers the daughter saying, "Mom, what's going on? I feel weird."
She left the library, and in the car, says Howe, her daughter started crying, and later said she had seen some of the porn.
The next morning, an upset Howe returned to the library to demand some answers, and then decided to tell her story in an email to the library's administration.
Howe says she understands the predicament the library is in.
But still: "At a minimum, there should be warning signs posted, stating that some screens may contain adult content. ... I had no idea my girls could be exposed to such images at our local library," she wrote in her email to the library.
On Tuesday afternoon, at the Lake City branch of the library, Howe told her story and showed where it all happened.
All the public computers were in use — people on Facebook, reading and writing email, playing online Bingo.
And there was one quiet guy, watching the screen intently. It was showing porn.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com