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Kadner: In defense of public libraries

The OrlPark Public Library has been center debate about unfiltered access Internet.  |  File photo

The Orland Park Public Library has been at the center of a debate about unfiltered access to the Internet. | File photo

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Updated: March 15, 2014 6:30AM



Whenever someone is starving for publicity, they go to the local public library.

There they find books about sex, fascism, communism or racism and others that contain profanity — pretty much anything that can rile people up.

In Orland Park, instead of asking for a ban on “Catcher in the Rye” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the target is Internet access on the public computers in the library’s adult section.

Some patrons allegedly were seen browsing pornographic sites on the computers. The proof seemed slim at best, the harm done negligible, and library officials implied that the claims were exaggerated (if not completely false).

It didn’t matter.

Suddenly, radio talk shows were talking about men leering at naked videos at the Orland Park Public Library and the potential harm done to young children if they happened to be exposed to a breast while walking by.

On social media, the controversy went viral as people expressed outrage at the debauchery taking place in Orland Park. It was the end of civilization as we know it.

I don’t know how many people were murdered on the streets of Chicago as the debate over the use of those library computers ramped up or how many people may have died from a drug overdose or how many schoolteachers were searching the Internet in the privacy of their homes for prostitutes.

Reading and listening to the comments of those campaigning for filters on those Orland Park Library computers, it seemed they actually believed this was a battle for the very souls of America’s youth.

I have visited libraries since the time I was old enough to read and not once did I think, “this is what folks mean by a den of iniquity.”

At this point I should come clean. I am a card-holding member of the Orland Park Library and proud of it.

Like many libraries today, space that once might have been devoted to books now is used to store DVDs and CDs, giving people access to movies, music and television shows.

In the rear of the second floor, there are banks of computers for use by those 18 or older. And the use is unrestricted for village residents (though greatly limited for non-residents as a result of the controversy).

If you go to a library and ask for a book, the dirty parts are not blacked out.

In theory, a librarian monitors access by children, but I suspect there are many children like myself who began reading adult books at a very early age.

In the Chicago Public Library branch near my childhood home, no librarian ever questioned me — even as I browsed medical texts and unabridged dictionaries for explanations of odd-sounding words that my buddies used to describe things that, well, I didn’t know much about.

Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin has a different view of what libraries ought to be about, or at least how they should respond to people seeking publicity. He sent library officials a sanctimonious letter supporting the campaign to place Internet filters on the computers in the adult section.

It really wouldn’t block access, the mayor stated, because if a library patron asked for the filters to be taken off, the librarians should do that. In other words, he proposed a politically correct but ethically devious way of dealing with a controversy that he seemed to think had blackened the reputation of Orland Park.

There were public meetings at the library where hundreds of people turned out to give library board members a piece of their mind.

Many supported the right of libraries to provide unfettered access to information. Just as many begged the board members to protect their children from the degenerates who visit libraries in search of porn.

After months of impassioned pleas from both sides, the library board this week voted 5-2 to continue the current policy of filtering web content only on computers used by children and young adults.

“It is a constitutional matter,” one trustee explained. “Patrons have the right to access anything that is legal.”

As they had many times before, library officials also cited the Illinois Library Association’s guidelines, which state that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea or someone from reading or seeing library materials simply because society finds the material offensive or disagreeable.

There are many who won’t understand that point of view, including Orland Park’s mayor. What’s a little censorship, after all, if it’s for the good of our children?

A debate of this sort could be productive if it inspired thoughtful conversation about the history of countries where books are banned, access to information is sharply restricted and guardians of morality determine what is best for the mental health of the masses.

But these controversies are never launched to inspire intelligent public discourse.

Nor do they ever address the real problems, or potential solutions, to the multiple problems plaguing society.

The intent is almost always self-promotion and self-glorification. The goal is public adulation for individuals who, for the most part, are anonymous and irrelevant.

Libraries ought to be at the very bottom of any list of institutions at fault for the problems of our nation.

The people who work at these places, those who volunteer their time as trustees, generally share a devotion to learning and love of knowledge that ought to inspire their fellow citizens.

They tend to be gentle people, however, who are not used to public ridicule and have difficulty dealing with conflict.

That said, I am proud of the people who serve the Orland Park Library.

When the mayor adds his voice to that of the mob, it’s not easy for people to do what’s right. It’s almost impossible to point out that there may never have been a wrong done in the first place.

The facts don’t matter in these sorts of cases. The evidence is irrelevant. No harm has to exist.

The Orland Park Library is a jewel and its patrons well served. As for the children who enter the building, may they be so lucky the rest of their lives.



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