Porn viewing courtesy of SF Public Library

Anyone that ever had a guy roommate in college remembers the horror of walking into his bedroom to inquire about rent money, only to find his face plastered to a computer screen with some poor-quality Sasha Grey video playing. And of course you caught the beaver shot.

It might be funny to look back on right now, but any of you still scarred by that experience should be mindful of the computer screens at the San Francisco Public Library — particularly the ones shielded with plastic privacy hoods — because those patrons could very well be watching porn.

The Huffington Post reports that the library’s main branch, located on Larkin Street in the Civic Center area, has installed 18 of these privacy hooded public terminals in an effort to allow patrons to view pornography without passersby having to see it as well.

Librarian Luis Herrera told KTVU:

“We’re always looking for any kind of elegant solution that strikes a balance between the right to privacy and folks that want to use the library for any other intended purpose.”

The choice to erect hoods really is a middle-ground approach to the rising number of porn viewers at the main library. But it also reflects an issue that libraries across the nation are facing: Keeping patrons comfortable with their library experience while maintaining “most librarians’ natural aversion to censorship.”

While it might seem like the library would want to simply block pornographic sites, this would also limit research material and other content, which was the issue in a lawsuit against a Washington State library earlier this year.

And though a 2003 US Supreme Court ruling requires certain library computers to have filters, those filters aren’t necessarily hard to turn off.

So the trial period for the plastic privacy hoods begins. Should they prove affective, the number of “porn shields” could increase. And to keep those non-skin-flick-viewing patrons happy, the library is also issuing a warning on all its 240 computers asking patrons to remain respectful of those around them when viewing material.

Venerable New York Times ethicist Randy Cohen wrote on the issue:

“Libraries should provide for the free exchange of ideas, not just ideas you or I find palatable, not just ideas suitable for 5-year-olds.”