Dr. Laura’s cure worse than the disease

No one should be proud of damaging the public library system. Unfortunately, radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger is proudly taking credit for two actions that have or will hurt libraries across the country. Schlessinger is crowing about resurrecting a California proposal that would force public libraries to use Internet-filtering software and is also cited as the impetus for the dissolution of a deal between Toys ‘R’ Us and the American Library Association for up to $1 million for children’s reading rooms.
Schlessinger should stick to pop psychology and leave the libraries alone. Her actions will likely have no effect on kids who really want to see pornography, but will certainly limit the ability of most individuals to use library Internet access for constructive purposes, as well as prevent many children from reading perfectly appropriate children’s books.
The problem with filters is that the programs are not very smart. For instance, ALA spokeswoman Joyce Kelley said many filters would prevent a student from looking at NASA’s Mars Explorer Web site because the two words together spell “sex.” Likewise, any site that teaches children about the body would be filtered out. At the same time, filters do not prevent children from participating in chat rooms, where a pedophile could theoretically contact them, because filters are not able to function within interactive sites.
At least advocating filters is an action that appears to have children’s best interests in mind. Lobbying Toys ‘R’ Us to not donate to the ALA is an entirely different matter. The money was intended to provide children’s reading rooms, creating safe places to which kids could go to relax and learn. Schlessinger’s actions have prevented scores of children from this possibility.
Toys ‘R’ Us pulled the funding because Schlessinger “portrayed librarians as promoting pornography and pedophilia,” according to an ALA newsletter story. When was the last time you went to the library and were pointed in the direction of the pedophile section? While it is true that most libraries carry books with adult themes, much of the best literature ever written falls under that heading. Libraries don’t carry Penthouse Magazine, but they do shelve D.H. Lawrence’s novels, Allen Ginsburg’s poetry and Shakespeare’s plays.
It is difficult to think of a crusade that is more misguided. Libraries are places that afford all children an opportunity to learn about the world in a safe way. No library should lead or force children toward more adult material, but completely removing those materials is censorship — plain and simple. Libraries are not intended only for children’s use. They are also places for adults to explore the world. Parents who are concerned their kids might look at pornography should not leave those children unsupervised for hours. The California proposal on filtering software is nothing more than a feel-good law that does more harm than good. Toys ‘R’ Us’ decision to stop their donation will not eliminate adult materials from libraries, it will only prevent the purchase of children’s materials. Schlessinger and Toys ‘R’ Us should be ashamed of their actions. The two are acting like the very children they are ostensibly protecting.