According to the Bowdoin administration and the Office of Safety and Security, Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (H-L Library) will continue its policy to not restrict Internet access, though the public computers in H-L Library have been used to view pornographic materials.
In the interest of providing free and open access to information, no public computers on campus block or censor Internet material. This policy was re-examined in 2008 after a student spotted a non-Bowdoin community member downloading pornographic material in H-L.
Librarian Sherrie Bergman described how the student had walked past a public computer on the first floor of the library and spotted the man viewing pornographic material. The student contacted Security, but by the time an officer arrived, the viewer was gone and no pornography remained on the computer.
Additional incidents involving pornography and public masturbation in the library have cropped up within the last few years. Randy Nichols, director of safety and security, cited another instance in 2008 when two female students noted an 18-year-old male watching pornography on a public computer and masturbating. Security was contacted, and this person was issued a trespass warning.
Tim Foster, dean of student affairs, said that he spoke with Nichols about how to deal with the incidents. However, the library staff informed Security about their decade-long policy of unrestricted information.
According to Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, limiting computer access would be detrimental to the community.
"The College has from time to time considered the use of 'filtering' software on various public computers on campus, including those in the library," said Judd. "But our current assessment is that such software is far from perfect...and would be likely to make it unduly difficult for students and faculty in the library to access legitimate sites for research."
Circulation desk supervisors in H-L Library could not be reached for comment on their observations.
Though Foster said that he believes unfettered access to information is important in an academic setting, he nevertheless expressed concern over whether all material should be accessible in public spaces.
"If you have a computer in a very public space, young people, old people, very young people, and the people who are passing by could see those materials," said Foster. "Then, I'm not so sure people should access certain things in public."
Some students agreed that material should be limited in widely-accessible public spaces.
"I don't believe any information should be censored in the library," said Elizabeth Owens '14. "I think looking at porn openly shouldn't be allowed though, especially if there are people walking around."
"I don't think that information should be restricted," said Rachael Bental '12. "If it's in a public place, and done by public funding, you should have access to it... but only as long as [explicit material is] contained."
Others disagree with the principle of blocking material.
"It's right that the library has no censorship policy," said Matthew Bernstein '13. "The ones who download pornographic material are a few out of many and we should be trusted as students and intellectuals."
"I'm really against limiting any content," said Toby Sedgwick '12. "But I don't necessarily think pornography should be downloaded. The solution to that, though, isn't limiting availability, but probably calling Security."
The library's longstanding policy regarding unrestricted access to information is intended to protect students' ability to research a wide range of subjects. Bergman noted that student or faculty research could potentially include pornographic material or other controversial images and videos.
"A liberal arts education gives students the opportunity to think critically and have unfettered access to information resources to learn new knowledge," said Bergman. "As librarians, we make every effort to present the broadest number of views on any aspect of recorded knowledge."
Though the library staff firmly believes in free access of information, they nonetheless encourage students to contact them or Security if uncomfortable situations arise.
"We will then coordinate with the library staff at the desk and escort the person who needs to leave," said Nichols.
"The library is here for the academic support of students and all members of the [Bowdoin] community," said Bergman. "Guests will be asked to leave in favor of a Bowdoin community member. No one should be made to feel unsafe in the library."