Pornography in the Library, Part I

This is Part I of a (hopefully) multi-part series on pornography and libraries.

The Fall semester of 2015, I took a class on metadata.  (Metadata is data that describes other data; basically, if you take a metadata class, you’re cataloging things just with standards/languages other than MaRC).  For the final project, we were supposed to create our own metadata schema.

Perhaps this is strange, but I immediately thought of pornography.

Metadata (and cataloging) is all about discovery.  While porn can be strangely easy to find, it can also be incredibly difficult to find.  We can see (softcore) porn on billboards, on television, etc., but search engines like Google censor their suggested search functions when the search relates to porn. Porn websites have a phenomenal number of tags (folksonomies or metadata), but the user might have to trawl through pages and pages, videos and videos, images and images to find the material that fulfills the user’s needs/wants.  Pornography could very well benefit from a metadata schema.  Creating a metadata schema is all about findability.  For a library school metadata project, pornography would be really cool to do.

Then, pornography is fascinating from a cataloging perspective (discoverability aside).  Pornography can come in all shapes, sizes, textures, etc.  It can be text, video, audio (audiobook or phone sex), still image.  It can be digital or analog. It could be 1,000 years old, or 1 second.  Wow, how can you create a structure (of metadata) that can encompass all these potential attributes?  It’s a compelling challenge, one that I really wish I could have jumped on.

And therein arises the second part of this post.  While I have constructed the barest skeleton of a metadata schema for pornography, I did that on a boring morning in December.  I didn’t have the support or time to create anything like a viable metadata schema.  My group was great to work with and, in the end, we created a decent artists’ books schema.  But, well, I didn’t get to create an in-depth metadata schema for pornography.

“White peach and cross section edit” by Fir0002 – File:White peach and cross section.jpg modified by User:Noodle snacks. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

I also became the subject of the Graduate School for Library and Information Science’s gossip.

My friend A was waiting for me outside the library, sitting on a misshapen lump of concrete. (Maybe it’s considered “art”?)  “They’re talking about you,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I was with my metadata group,” he said.  “They said how one group had a member who wanted to do pornography.”

I raised my hand cynically.  “That’s me.”

He knew that.  We’d already discussed the idea of a metadata schema for pornography.  “I told them it was a cool idea.  They sort of agreed.  But they said it was ‘unprofessional’.”

“Unprofessional,” I mused.

Well, when you become the subject of gossip, you’re likely on to something.  That’s at least what I told myself.

Pornography exists on the fringes of library and information science.  We deem it “unprofessional” and thus it never gets cataloged, never gets discovered.  Sometimes, we don’t know how to even classify it (pornography or erotica or art).  Our libraries avoid buying it, even if there might be value (research, cultural, community needs). When we do buy material considered “pornographic,” we get challenged – by staff and by patrons.  Our libraries and institutions might have policies on collecting pornography…or they might be utterly silent on it.

Pornography’s challenges for information professionals is what fascinates me about pornography in the library.



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