Testing Seattle's Porn-Friendly Public Libraries

I love libraries, and I love porn, but those two interests have rarely overlapped. Now that librarians at my local branch have taken a firm stance in favor of public-porn watching, I decided to take a day off and check out some hot, raw...

|
Oct 1 2013, 5:00pm

Like many people on this deadly, dying sphere, pornography is often the only thing that keeps me going—I’m probably watching it as you read this. I’m also a frequent library patron, but before this week, these two interests rarely overlapped (except for that time I thumbed through The Story of the Eye in the stacks, an activity I highly recommend).

I live in Seattle, and this past January, a local mother named Julia Howe was at the Lake City library with her 10-year-old daughter when they came across a man publicly viewing hard-core porn. When Howe asked a librarian to move him to a more discreet location, the librarian refused. Howe ended up taking her complaint to local radio stations and newspapers, and started a small tempest around the issue, with pissed-off parents on one side and librarians on the other. The librarians stuck to their guns, and now any of us can walk into the computer room and view some hot, raw, constitutionally protected porno.

There are a whole host of reasons why parents don’t want their kids watching porn, and all of them are valid. However, libraries don’t censor what patrons check out off the shelves, and they don’t tell their patrons what to view on computers. They’re committed to an ethic of facilitating—not monitoring—access to information, and if you’re anything like me, you see this as an ethical win for us all.

So sure, librarians are absolutely on the front lines of the fight for the first amendment... But that’s a different article. This one is about how last week I went to the library to look at some nasty shit.

I started by talking to Seattle Library spokesperson Andra Addison. She went on in great detail about the complexity of public internet access and how Seattle has dealt with it. Andra concludes, rightly, that if someone finds an “idea” offensive, that doesn’t mean that idea isn’t protected under the Constitution, even if that idea is moving images of, say, a woman with a dildo the size of her forearm turning virgin olive oil into regular olive oil.


I watched porn right there.

Before you get all, “Hey, these people have computers, they should keep their porn at home,” think about that statement. Just because you’re reading this on your iPad or whatever doesn’t change the fact that not everyone has a computer. According to Andra, many of the library’s patrons don’t have access to personal computers, or have had to give up internet service because of financial challenges. Thus, they are compelled to get their porn refill in public.

I decided to check this out for myself. I nervously walked through the doors of my favorite Seattle branch, the downtown location designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. If you haven’t been there, the closest approximation I can give is Tron. It’s built around incredible glowing neon orange and yellow escalators, and it’s made to hold 1.45 million books.

When I passed a couple of security guards, I felt a little guilty, but after my reflection in a trash can confirmed I didn’t look like a flasher or a Catholic priest, I took the escalator up to the fourth floor. I picked out one of the library’s 400 public computers, between a sunburnt blond guy wearing yarn as a bracelet and a nondescript businessman with a roller backpack.

I opened up my email in one tab, and Fantasy Feeder in another. This is my favorite website on the internet. In case you aren’t familiar, Fantasy Feeder is fat porn, weight gain—basically people who are fat or get off on gaining weight use the site to display this for their own enjoyment/exchange sexual favors with interested parties like myself.

I wanted to start safe, so I put on a video I’d already gotten off to earlier that day to ensure I'd actually be turned on: slightly pixelated footage of a fat girl putting on a spandex yoga outfit many sizes too small. The possibility that someone might catch me made it hotter, but even with the computer’s privacy screen, designed so images can’t be seen from an angle, I was bothered by the thought of giving people the creeps.

Around minute three, when I was starting to wish it was possible to check out vibrators, yarn-bracelet guy leaned over and said, “Excuse me.”  I frantically clicked back to email before he could ask, “Do you know how to spell August?” Once the fear of my shameful ejection from the library had passed, I looked at a series of photos on Fantasy Feeder, one of them labeled Thinking of What Size My Breasts Could Become. Their owner wanted to know if she should gain 20 pounds. Of course my answer was a resounding, “The things I’d be doing right now if I wasn’t inches away from a guy with a roller backpack.”

It then occurred to me that my taste in pornography is fairly esoteric, and I was probably looking at stuff that might not even be identifiable as porn. The porn I like to watch doesn’t usually involve actual fucking, but when it does, I like gay stuff. I brought up XTube, and a video called "We Fuck the Dealer of Beers," tagged "cumshot," "anal," "hardcore," "blowjob," and, oddly, "straight," though it clearly featured three guys stacked like Legos. I moved on to a video of a guy jacking off into a plush My Little Pony doll’s mouth for two minutes. Things got boring when I couldn’t take my clothes off, so I disappeared into the “Books Spiral,” and no one was the wiser.

As far as I know, I hurt no one on my sexy trip to the library—in fact, I helped one guy become a better speller. Are there people who create a nuisance or even a safety hazard by watching porn in public? Of course—there are dangerous people out there. You and your kids are just as (if not more) likely to encounter somebody creating a scary, drooling spectacle on the bus with their iPhone as you are in a library with public computers. But most people aren’t dangerous, and most of them don’t want to look like dirtbags.

Even if I knew I was surrounded by morons who come to the library exclusively to look at bleached, surgically altered snatch and check out Ayn Rand novels, I wouldn’t give up my fat girls and T. S. Eliot to stop them. It’s never any fun to let a few jerks ruin the party.

More stuff about porn and public libraries:

Juicy J Talks Libraries and Strippers

Stoya on How Porn Chicks Avoid Getting Preggers

Why Can You Go to Prison for Making Scat Porn?

More VICE
Vice Channels