Billings teacher unsettled by pornography incident at library
The computer lab at the Billings Public Library is open to everyone.
The four unfiltered computers have privacy covers above and below, but neither fully cover the view of what is on the screen.
Of the 89 computers, only four do not have any filters turned on. Library officials say a majority of those who use them are respectful of other patrons.
In its first two years of operations, the new Billings Public Library has offered visitors a variety of learning tools.
But tools like the public computer are causing a family-friendly space to clash with First Amendment rights.
A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, and the Billings Public Library is no exception.
But not everyone agrees those reproductive organs should be on display on the facility's computers.
"I was making my way to back where I was before. I just caught a glimpse of something super inappropriate on one of the private screens," said a teacher who asked that her name not be used. "So I did another lap to make sure I wasn't misconstruing what he was looking at. There was no question after that."
While on a school trip, the Billings teacher witnessed a man viewing pornographic images on the computer.
But the man wasn't breaking any laws. In fact, the state of Montana does not have any law on the book prohibiting the viewing of sexually explicit content on library computers.
It is a battle between what society deems appropriate and the First Amendment.
"It's tough in the library profession to balance the First Amendment right," said Michael Carlson, Billings Public Library Assistant Director. "There are a lot of libraries that do not filter at all. They believe the First Amendment right. We're very cognizant of that. You try to take in account your community you serve."
Of the 89 computers of the Billings Public Library, 85 have filters.
The other four come with privacy shields both above and below, both of which do not completely censor the content to a passing patron in the vicinity at that moment.
But of the hundreds who use the computers every week, Carlson said that type of behavior is rare.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people who come in here do not come in here to look at that type of material," Carlson said.
In the room for breeding ideas, some worry unsuspecting kids may get the wrong education.
"As an educator, coming up with a field trip that we feel is going to be very productive for our students, we don't want to worry about what content they may or may not be exposed to at the hands of an adult on a computer with no restrictions," the teacher said.
The teacher also expressed concern with the library's response when she complained. According to her, a librarian told her the man has used the computer to view sexually explicit images in the past.
The adult material is not accessible to everyone.
Kids under the age of 18 are given a different access card to log onto the computer and with the filters in place they cannot visit websites with adult content.