Stairiker: Porn isn’t odd for Paley

Kevin Stairiker

Kevin StairikerSitting behind the Media Services desk in the basement of Paley Library, I have seen a number of questionable things. This was one of the reasons I wasn’t incredibly surprised on Feb. 24 when one of my favorite patrons came to the desk to tell me of what just occurred upstairs in the main lobby. 

Breathlessly, she told me that a man had been watching pornography on one of the computers and after a student worker confronted him, the man punched the student worker and fled, only to be tazed and escorted by officers to the campus police station.

I put on my best “surprised” face for her benefit, but anyone from the most casual patron to a complete library nerd like myself has probably at one point seen something crazy at a public library. The nature of a space that lets literally anyone in naturally invites chaos.

Just last month, I found myself perusing the Free Library of Philadelphia’s CD collection when, through the shelves, I saw an older man watching not just one large screen of porn, but rather four slightly smaller windows of porn, all showcasing a different facet of the man’s considerable interests in POV filmmaking. I sighed and moved to the pop/rock section. This event happened at the main branch of the Free Library. If that can happen undisturbed at the biggest branch of one of the biggest libraries in the country, what does that say about Paley Library?

In my own experience, community patrons and students alike have been known to display outlandish behavior on occasion, almost on an even keel. Before spring break, as I was leaving the bathroom on the bottom floor, I heard the unmistakable sounds of someone snapping a tin of chewing tobacco back and forth vigorously. I turn, and there at the urinal was a guy pretending to masturbate with the tin. He then turned around and smiled slightly, never stopping with the chewing tobacco, almost in a joking way but clearly slightly deranged. He later came to the desk and checked out a movie for his Intellectual Heritage class.

As for patrons of the community, 96 percent of them couldn’t be any nicer, generally helping my shifts go faster with conversations about all manners of things: life, death, religion, magic, the films of Jack Black and everything in between.

One time a woman ran downstairs hysterical, claiming she had been assaulted in the bathroom by a strange man and wanted everyone to know her husband was on the Philadelphia police force. An hour later, an actual member of the Philadelphia police came to say she made the whole thing up.

When someone approaches the desk, no matter who it is, I’ve learned to accept both the weird and mundane, because it’s almost always going to be one or the other.

The case of the man watching porn in the library is certainly not the first and might have even qualified for the “mundane” column if he hadn’t hit a student worker and been chased out by the cops.

While it might be easy to make him a scapegoat for the largely anonymous percentage of community library users out there, the incident was an anomaly at best. His behavior should not speak for the dozens of people who use the resources of the library that most students don’t even bother with, like the computers, microfilm collection and the thousands of movies in the basement.

Paying more security guards or taking away privileges from all community users isn’t the answer, but rather a better understanding and an open pair of eyes will keep incidents like this as rare as they are.

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at kevin.stairiker@temple.edu.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with the point you make about how appreciative and respectful the overwhelming majority of our community guests are in using our library resources. It is unfortunate that a few individuals will act irresponsibly, and on rare occasions, threaten the safety of our library staff. As associate university library, I applaud our staff’s enthusiasm for serving members of the public community knowing that it sometimes puts them at risk – or just having to deal with the awkwardness of telling someone to stop their porn viewing. Thank you for acknowledging the tremendous value the Library delivers to our community members. We must not allow the disrespectful behavior of a minority to threaten the provision of a highly valued service to the majority.

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