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Aug 04, 2010


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The whole theme of "grandstanding" baffles me. I just don't see it.

Andrew Brod

My experiences working with city staff have been uniformly positive: the staff people with whom I've had contact have been competent and responsive. I've never understood the Rhino-Times-ish tendency to bash the staff relentlessly and indiscriminately.

Ed Cone

My perception is that our staffers tend to be good at their jobs, and that GSO enjoys a pretty high level of service.

Beyond that, the City is a big, complex operation. Councilmembers lack the domain expertise and the time to manage operations in detail, and they employ a manager to do a lot of the, well, management.


I don't care if they are playing politics (or grandstanding) during City Council meetings. They are politicians. What I do care about is what I saw as one person's feeble approach to addressing what everyone rightly thinks is a problem. Danny Thompson should've vetted the wording of his motion and the idea with the City Attorney and the City Manager prior to the meeting. Simple concept, really, that would've made for a much more fruitful discussion of the topic.

What I saw from the rest of the council were attempts at trying to reword Danny's idea in to one that would actually work and pass legal muster. Inexperience? Selfishness? Political one-upmanship? Campaigning? Who cares?

Ed Cone

GO, I'd include springing the motion without adequate preparation under the "grandstanding" rubric. Playing politics is antithetical to the fruitful discussion you and many others desire.

I wonder how much discussion Thompson had with library staff before making his motion.


If it was intended to be grandstanding, he didn't do a very good job of it. I'm pretty sure that he said he did talk with Sandy Neerman prior to Tuesday night's meeting. Perhaps he should take some cues from Perkins' successful amphitheatre grandstand that he pulled off at the last meeting. Then again...oh, never mind.

Andrew M.

I'd like to know the ratio of incidents to the total number of computer patrons at the library. As with every other city program, a decision shouldn't be made on emotion alone. There needs to be a cost-benefit analysis. If there aren't that many incidents compared to the overall number of computer users, spending tens of thousands or more on new filtering software that may invite a legal challenge might not be worth it.

Wouldn't a few more cameras and more aggressively banning offenders from the library accomplish the same thing?

Brandon Burgess

I've been wondering how many offenders are minors who aren't being watched by their parents.

Either way, something should be done. A commenter at Guarino's suggests allowing access only to .edu and .gov websites. I think that is a better idea than filters and it would ensure that computers are being used only for educational purposes.

Ed Cone

Don't have the numbers in front of me, but I think total visits to Central branch in first six months of 2010 was somewhere north of 700K, total using computers there in that period somewhere over 100,000, total reports of improper usage somewhere around 20, not all of which are necessarily porn-related, with the total reports being down sharply in the wake of the throttling software implementation.

Brandon, limiting domains to edu and gov would mean students couldn't read newspapers and magazines, or museum or science sites, etc. And of course it would mean non-students couldn't read much, either. Maybe we should get rid of the best-sellers in the fiction section, they aren't educational...Seems like overkill for the problem at hand.

Brandon Burgess

Ed, I should've included online databases.

That proposal also means folks wont spend time on social networking websites which is generally what the computers are used for, at least when I'm walking around trying to find a comp to use.

Joe Guarino

A few points:

1. Robbie Perkins pulled his maneuver on the amphitheater several weeks ago with zero notice. GO, I think you might have some awareness of that. In any case, once Perkins did that, I think it became open season for conservative members of the city council to raise motions without advance notice. I think they should do so, and often.

2. I don't regard Thompson's motion as grandstanding. The porn problem at the library was first identified on Ryan Shell's blog. We had the internet in the library quite a number of years before Ryan wrote that blog post. Library staff had ample time to implement a solution before Ryan raised the issue, and had not done so. They let the problem fester for years. The solution they recently offered appeared half-hearted to some of us.

3. I spoke with Thompson Monday night after the council meeting. He told me he had been collaborating to some extent with Assistant City Manager Speedling on this issue; and I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that it was Speedling who obtained the incident reports for him. A private security service, Lankford, serves the library, and apparently Speedling has responsibility over that security. The premise that he had not had contact with city staff on this matter is false.

4. We should remember what the reporting relationships are. The city manager works for the city council-- not the other way around. Council members are not obliged to coordinate with the city manager when motions are delivered. Let's remember that he works for them. And it is entirely appropriate for the city council to deal with policy questions. This is a significant policy matter.

5. After having viewed the discussions here on this topic, I cannot help but feel that the issue of porn filters at the library has enormous symbolic political significance among those who object. It appears some simply do not like the fact the topic was raised.

6. Had Thompson floated the idea around more than he had before the meeting, he would have run the risk of the usual forces mobilizing to stop it. Conservatives remain in the minority on the city council. Raising the motion as he did might have been strategic-- not grandstanding. And he likely knew that some people would dislike his raising this issue.


I could not have said it better, Joe. I agree with everything you wrote.

But never forget what this blog is about when it comes to politics- criticizing and discrediting conservatives.


The least-expensive and most productive solution (IMO) is if ICANN would approve .xxx TLDs (like mydirtysite.xxx instead of .com) and porn purveyors were required to use it. Then .xxx sites could be blocked easily and at a low cost. The .xxx TLD idea isn't new but it needs ICANN blessing. They're an international group and don't share smaller-town US values of the moment. Personally, I don't believe in content filtering at public libraries but am tired of arguing about it. I wish everyone else was.

There are other solutions besides censorship. We should investigate those. Worse, the Library has very little bandwidth ("agonizingly slow" is what most call it) and I wish the argument was to get more there. It's the town hall for people who don't have their own Internet connections and it's sorely needed. Couldn't Mr. Thompson have addressed that as well? Nah. Much more news-attention-getting to talk about porn.

I don't give a fig about who brought it up when and with whom it was discussed. This is pure politics and news-whoring and has very little to do with the library. That's the biggest shame. (Note: I like Mr. Thompson; think he's going to make a fine City Council person. I just don't like library censorship yet again as an AGM (elementary school teacher jargon: Attention Getting Mechanism).


"But never forget what this blog is about when it comes to politics- criticizing and discrediting conservatives."

How could we forget with the provocations that appear here daily?


Having been born without the part of the brain that detects or recognizes political forces and posturing at the local level, my reactions to this issue are naive to said political motivation.
However, I would be interested to know who is OK with the manipulation of library computers to where they
" are already equipped with a device that makes pornographic websites load more slowly, to try to deter users.", presumably instituted by or with the approval of Sandy Neerman, but are not OK with the proposal put forth by Danny Thompson to block it altogether, and why the difference, politics aside of course. Is it because the former was done with adequate expert research, but the latter was not?


I don't favor censorship either, Sue. But libraries never stocked porn in hardcover so why provide it electronically?

In fact, most people on this thread agree with Thompson that some better restrictions may be desirable. Danny's problem wasn't his message; it was that he was the messenger, and well, he aligns with conservatives too often so let's find some reason to attack him.

Guarino nailed it in his previous comment.

Brandon Burgess

No, its that he is just as slimy as Perkins. Except its not slimy when he's doing it. Joe says conservatives should do just as Perkins.

Plus, filters are a ridiculous idea because it wont block all porn and will block some educational material.

Allowing access to only educational material such as online databases, .gov's and .edu's will solve the problem with porn and all-around frivolous use of library computers.


"Allowing access to only educational material such as online databases, .gov's and .edu's will solve the problem with porn and all-around frivolous use of library computers."

Oh, so blocking all .coms won't "block some educational material" but blocking only porn will? I think I see the light now. I've been rescued from ridiculous ideas. I hadn't realized that "frivolous use" was part of the problem being addressed. Maybe we should ban entertainment magazines from the library too.

Brandon Burgess

"I hadn't realized that "frivolous use" was part of the problem being addressed."

--It's an issue I have raised in previous posts regarding library computers. Folks who don't use library computers aren't expected to understand.

Michele has even suggested that it isn't the library's responsibility to provide citizens with computers. I suggest a compromise.

It is ridiculous to think that filters will block all porn. It is ridiculous to think that libraries should provide access to social networking and gaming websites.

Brandon Burgess

"Oh, so blocking all .coms won't "block some educational material" but blocking only porn will? I think I see the light now."

--Not sure how much research and writing you do nowadays but .coms are generally not accepted as reliable sources of information for research purposes. On the other hand, .govs, .edus and online databases are acceptable sources for information. See the light yet ace?


It is your sweeping "frivolous use" proposal while simultaneously decrying banning porn alone on the basis of it "blocking some educational material" that is patently ridiculous. Trust me Brandon, if Ed and I agree on something, well,...


You're right, Brandon. I've never learned anything from wikipedia.com, google.com. ed cone.com and all those blogs you spend so much time trying to find yourself at which only link to .govs and .edus to kickstart all these horizon-expanding discussions. If your "frivolous use" ordinance banning entertainment-only material were ever instituted, some of your blog comments would be among its first casualties.

Brandon Burgess

Cheri, there can be no "banning porn alone." What part of that do you not understand?

And yes, using library computers for social networking and gaming is frivolous (and is what a significant number of folks use the library computers for) and I believe such use should be banned. Just like porn, social networking and online gaming has no place in the library.

The only problem I see with banning dot-coms is that it would limit access to newspapers. Considering the type of writing and level of research that goes into most newspaper articles, I'm not sure folks would be missing out on much. I heard some major newspapers are considering switching to paysites anyway.

I would include online journals and databases along with .govs and .edus as acceptable. Allowing access to only these kinds of sites would take care of the porn problem while still allowing folks to research physiology or cancer or whatever. Your filter proposal would undoubtedly hinder folks' ability to research these topics. See how that works?

You and Ed agreeing on something means crap; just two dudes with opinions.

Brandon Burgess


--Ok Doc, I'd love to see you publish research citing those sources.

Do you even use the library computers? If so, does it not bother you to waste your time while folks are completing crossword puzzles and chatting when you actually have something to do and need a computer?

Brandon Burgess

Cheri, judging from the nature of your comments, and I'm not talking down to you (as I really don't know much about comps and teh internets especially compared to you folks who work with technology) but I don't think you understand the nature of researching things on the web. Not looking up sports scores or trivia, but research in the academic sense of the word.

Online databases of journals and the accompanying search engines are of far greater value to students/autodidacts than google, wikipedia and the blogs.

I would be embarrassed to cite wikipedia. I'm sorry dude, its just not reliable and a professor would simply wipe their ass with a paper that cited a blog as a reliable source for a political science research paper.

Do you know about Questia? NCLive? Lexis? EBSCO? JSTOR? Libraries are doing no one a favor by enabling access to wikipedia. The money that may be used for filters could be used to gain access to more online databases and journals. F*** wikipedia.

Brandon Burgess

As for spending time on blogs, if we weren't doing that, we'd all be in a bar doing the same thing we do on blogs. It's not academics, it's a jerk-off session and that's not allowed in libraries anyway, so...

Account Deleted

Brandon: You do know that pickr is a doctor don't you? I'm certain he must've come across "research in an academic sense of the word" at some point in his course of study.

Brandon Burgess

Jeff, I know. He should understand why blogs and wikipedia are not on the same level as JAMA or a law review journal.

I don't remember this kind of backlash against Michele who opined that libraries really don't need computers anyway. I'm suggesting a compromise between the two extremes. My proposal would take care of the porn issue that doesn't affect most of you folks and the other issues that do affect actual library patrons like me.

Again, how many folks commenting here actually use the library computers and would benefit or suffer from the allowance of only academic-related material on library computers?

Ed, you've blogged recently about how stupid and lazy Americans are getting (to put it bluntly). I don't think discouraging kids (or adults) from relying on wikipedia and newspapers (along with cable tv) is anything but good. Some guy from back in the day once said that one who doesn't read newspapers is uninformed while the one who does read them is misinformed.

Brandon Burgess

Quick, let me get to wikipedia so I can cite that quote. Who needs to read when you have google?

Ed Cone

I disagree with Brandon that library computers should be restricted only to research sites. I do think academic work should be a priority in terms of library services, so if resources are scarce maybe some sort of scheduling would be a good idea in order to allow students the access they need.

CP, you ask why throttling is OK but other forms of control are not. But that is not the case -- as the post says, Neerman is not categorically opposed to other methods.

The question is about the need for further measures, and the cost/benefit equation for implementation.

Which leads to Joe's point when he says, "The porn problem at the library was first identified on Ryan Shell's blog."

Yet if we to back to that thread, we find very little in the way of facts about the extent of the problem, and we have not seen much more to date.

Also, Joe says the measures taken by the library have not yielded results, but I'm hearing that the results are quantifiable and significant.

The problem with the Council's action is not who proposed it, but that it may be an overreaction to a problem that was not that big in the first place and may be in better control now, and also one where the solutions do not come without some cost.

This could work out well if it leads to a public discussion of these issues, and solutions that fit the problem. Those solutions may or may not include filtering.

If the facts don't support filtering but the Council grandstands the issue in that direction anyway, that would count as a bad outcome. If filters are needed, there will be filters.

This is not a situation unique to Greensboro, so I've assigned a very good reporter to write a feature that addresses some of the questions about the effectiveness and liabilities of filters at libraries and in corporate settings.


"The problem with the Council's action is not who proposed it, but that it may be an overreaction to a problem that was not that big in the first place and may be in better control now"

One person continues to argue that it is an underreaction to a problem that is bigger and more out of control than anyone but him seems to realize.


"The question is about the need for further measures, and the cost/benefit equation for implementation."

Really? I thought the question was how big of a jerk Danny Thompson is, because you know...

Ed Cone

If someone has evidence that the problem is out of control, they should make that evidence known as part of a systematic assessment of this issue. I'm unaware of such evidence being presented.

We need data, and also information on solutions to whatever problems actually exist. Then we make a decision on strategy and implementation.


If the problem really is that minors might inadvertently see pron, and imperfect filtering really costs tens of thousands of dollars, and our true concerns are for the children and our tax dollars, why not spend a fraction of that on private cubicles that only adults could use?

Problem solved, unless that's not the real problem some people have with this.

Jim Langer

If "frivolous" was the criteria for disposing of things at a library, goodbye to all the romance, thriller and detective novels.

Andrew Brod

I'd oppose filtering out social-networking sites. One of the key roles played by public libraries is providing poorer folks with computer access, and hence access to the online world that is increasingly important to business success. Social networking is part of that.

Brandon Burgess

Thomas, cubicles already exist for laptop users. Some conservatives say rearranging the computers would just be to expensive; they want filters.

Jim, I'm talking about frivolous use of library computers. We still allow books with explicit sexual content and I don't hear anyone suggesting banning those, just the websites. I'm not suggesting banning encyclopedias. But banning wikipedia would put Greensboro on the path to being a city with more critically thinking citizens.

Ed, there is a system. Each patron is allowed 2 hours at a time to play video games and chat or conduct research on library computers. They do have a system in place now where people can wait in an electronic line and can login when a computer is freed up. The problem with that is when you see open computers but it tells you must wait longer because someone else is ahead of you in the electronic line. Also, one must possess a library card to use the computers. If someone is caught looking at porn, I don't see why their library number can't be banned from the computers.

Maybe what I propose is extreme but again, I actually use the central library and its computers so I think I offer a perspective that is lacking here. I wonder how often most of you with opinions frequent the library. Probably explains why Thompson can get you all so worked up yet you don't understand how frustrating it is to be in a student's position when everyone is chatting with each on the computers and you have things to do.

Ed Cone

BB, I think your input as a computer user at the library is valuable, and I'd expect that library staff would agree.

Other commenters, including me, don't find your proposal for limiting access to only research or government sites to be practical or in keeping with the library's broad mission.

I hope you will continue to share observations and suggestions even if this particular idea fails to gain traction.

Your description of flaws with the existing system for resource allocation might help lead to a better system, which probably will still be imperfect; ideally these things are iterative, and subject to change as better ideas emerge or as conditions evolve.

Jim Langer

I think they should require anyone caught watching porn to play online chess.


So Ed's beef against Danny is simply that Danny might be wrong. Wow. He might be right too. In fact, a politician might be wrong about anything, but that's no reason to attack them for raising the issue.

Next Ed writes: "We need data, and also information on solutions to whatever problems actually exist. Then we make a decision on strategy and implementation."

Nothing in Danny's comments prevented that from happening. In fact, that is ultimately what the council decided to do. That would not have happened if Danny didn't raise the issue.

Steve Harrison

"banning wikipedia would put Greensboro on the path to being a city with more critically thinking citizens."

Brandon, the value of Wikipedia is that it (can) serve as a "roadsign" or jumping off point for deeper research into a subject. The same goes for online newspaper sites. And due to its crowd-sourced nature, it can also keep you from following erroneous pathways down which others have ventured.

As far as valuing the .edu (highly) over the .com, you are by no means guaranteeing that what you're looking at is solid, peer-reviewed research. A lot of what is published on academic sites are drawn from students' efforts. I'm not trying to impugn those efforts; some of the most ground-breaking research is done by grad students and doctoral candidates. But you can follow erroneous pathways there, too.

The key to critical thinking is not in assigning (possibly flawed) values to certain information sources, but discarding those (and other) preconceived notions of verity in favor of a new construction.

Brandon Burgess

Good points Steve.


Steve has a way of expressing points without being an arsehole. Others of us, not so much.

Michele Forrest

AB: "I'd oppose filtering out social-networking sites. One of the key roles played by public libraries is providing poorer folks with computer access, and hence access to the online world that is increasingly important to business success. Social networking is part of that."

LOL. For reals. Mafia Wars and Farmville are HUGELY important indicators of success in the business world.

JL: "I think they should require anyone caught watching porn to play online chess."

Funny you should say that. I was messaging with a friend who was playing online chess at the downtown library, but he couldn't concentrate on his chess games because the guy beside him was engrossed in watching porn. Ugh. I shall not elaborate.


Brandon, stop arguing that filters block good sites, too. That one's been fixed on most blocking software. Limiting by TLD is just stupid (you're not stupid, but that idea is).

My real interest is in Sandy Neerman's numbers (y'know, those pesky FACTS). If there are ONLY 18 incidents in 6 months (and let's project less than 40 in a year because they've already addressed the problem and are fixing it), then jeez, don't we have more important things to spend Council time fixing? There are probably more police lawsuits [sarcasm alert] than porn incidents; let's spend some time there. How many murders do we have a year? A little lower than porn incidents? Maybe that needs attention. Gang problems? Bigger issue than porn at the library? I'd prefer to spend resources in that arena.

But to create hysteria over PORN! and get newspaper time and all this re-arguing is politics and has almost nothing to do with what really needs fixing. It lets the holy people yell and scream about family values while gangs, murders and lawsuits about race get second-listed. That needs to stop before I have to quote from that great soliloquy from The American President and bore everyone to death.

David Wharton

Brandon, I'm curious why you think Wikipedia is antithetical to critical thinking. For one thing, a study by Nature showed that it's comparable in accuracy to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

For another, the very nature of Wikipedia encourages critical thought. Unlike encyclopedias like Britannica, in which we're invited just to accept the interpretations of the editors' experts, Wikipedia invites its readers to examine, contribute to, and dispute or refute what's written. I've seen plenty of Wikipedia articles that say right at the top, "contents of this article are disputed" or "not up to Wikipedia standards" or "help make this article better."

I think Wikipedia has made my students more sophisticated evaluators of the sources and reliability of information.

Michele Forrest

"It lets the holy people yell and scream about family values while gangs, murders and lawsuits about race get second-listed."

"Holy people" sounds a little, um... intolerant. But anyhoo, why is it either/or? Must we really choose? Let's see: A. We can have porn-free libraries, or B. We can stop gangs and murderers? Hmmm... which to choose...? Dang, y'all, this is hard. (And/or silly.)

Brandon Burgess

Sue, you may be right about the filters. And I realize my idea is extreme but I'm trying to address other library computer problems while we are at it. Its not just the porn.

David, your students are lucky to have a teacher who helps them understand the kind of work (or lack of) that goes into wikipedia entries. On the other hand, a lot of folks don't have teachers and a lot of folks probably ignore the fact that info on there might be incomplete or disputed.

It bothers me when someone cites wikipedia when they should be citing the source from which the info was gleaned. Wikipedia is a collection of info from credible sources but not a credible source itself. A lot of folks don't understand what makes a source credible (wikipedia vs. a peer reviewed journal) which is why people like Glen Beck and Keith Olbermann are viewed as great thinkers by significant number of Americans.

I concede that wikipedia isn't inherently bad in the way that I described earlier but the way some folks use it and the trust they put into it is a symptom of intellectual laziness and/or improper education.

All this being said, I still look at something on wikipedia just about everyday.

Ed Cone

BB, I mentioned your usage/time concerns to Sandy Neerman when we spoke this morning. I'm pretty sure staff is reading these threads, too, so keep at it.

No encyclopedia is an acceptable source for serious research, but some, including Wikipedia, are highly useful as reference works and resources for further study.


Agree with CP. We like Steve.

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