New signs on the computers in Weber State University’s Stewart Library read, “NO PORNOGRAPHY on library computers. Offenders will be asked to leave. Repeat offenders will lose library privileges.”

Put up two weeks ago by Kathy Payne, head of Reference and Information Services at the library, the signs were an attempt to clarify library policy. However, pornography is difficult to classify and even harder to restrict at a public university.

Though a recurring topic, the most recent discussion occurred in the beginning of spring semester 2011, when a couple of students opposed to pornography on campus raised the issue with the student senate. The student senate researched WSU’s policy on pornography and set out to understand the issues and find a resolution.

With there being few laws against pornography and WSU being a public institution, revoking computer privileges is tricky.

“It’s a tough problem, it really is,” said G. Richard Hill from Legal Counsel. “You try to respect the rights of adults to view those things as long as it’s not obscene, which, in today’s world, that’s way down. Because it’s a community standard, it’s varied. But then, we do have to take the interests of other students into account.”

In fact, as stated in the library’s acceptable use policy, “The Stewart Library supports the teaching, research, and learning mission of Weber State University by providing open access to the broadest possible range of ideas, opinions, and knowledge . . . The Stewart Library endorses and promotes intellectual and academic freedom principles and does not restrict access to information.”

The library’s signs send out an opposing message: Viewing pornography will cost students their library privileges.

The acceptable use policy also reads, “Appropriate use of public access workstations in the library includes instruction, study, research, and personal enrichment.” For many students, the computers on campus are their only access to the Internet. Whether they use them to pay their bills, Google images for an anatomy class or watch videos on YouTube, the option is theirs. But, due to the size of the screens in the library, it’s visible to other people in the lab too.

The compromise, in the midst of widely varying opinions of staff and students alike, is simple.

“If a student wants to look at material that could be deemed pornographic, then they are given a laptop and asked to do it in a more private area where there aren’t so many other students there to look at it,” said Student Senate Vice President Justin Neville, who has since been re-elected. Joan Hubbard, head librarian at the Stewart Library, agreed that this would be acceptable.

Another alternative, suggested by Ryan Thomas, associate provost and dean of Undergraduate Studies, would be to craft the wording on the signs, making it clear that the signs do not propose to infringe upon student rights.

Even though the law might disagree with the signs on the computers, many students don’t. Taylor Frost, a junior in psychology, said he doesn’t have a problem with the little piece of laminated paper Velcroed to the bottom right of his screen.

“Pornography opens up the computers for viruses,” Frost said. “You compromise the other people that actually work on these computers if they use flash drives or their e-mail. I don’t think a public place is the best place to be viewing porn; maybe do it somewhere else if you are going to.”

The library warning signs’ debut has been uneventful. There have been no complaints or vandalism, and only one sign has disappeared and needed to be replaced. When asked if the signs were introduced because of an ongoing problem with pornography in the library, Payne answered plainly, “I wouldn’t call it a problem.”

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