The American Library Association and Its Longstanding Pornography Problem, Explained

When most of us think about our local library, we picture a safe place for students to research, senior citizens to read, and children to listen to stories read aloud by one of the librarians. It is a pleasant picture. But, as many individuals and families enjoy the benefits of their local libraries, the American Library Association has fostered the presence of sexually explicit material in libraries across the United States.

For years, local libraries, cheered on by the American Library Association, have fostered unhealthy and unsafe environments for children through either inadequate or—in many cases—non-existent filters to block pornographic material on library computers from their sight. This in turn leaves library patrons, including and especially innocent children, vulnerable to being exposed to hardcore pornography—images that will potentially damage the intellectual development of young minds while normalizing sexual violence and lack of consent.

That is why NCOSE has been involved in a prolonged battle with the American Library Association (ALA) to make sure our children are protected from pornography and its harms, leading the charge for safe libraries with adequate Internet filters to safeguard children’s hearts and minds. The ALA’s refusal to protect children from viewing or accessing hardcore pornography is why NCOSE put the ALA on our annual Dirty Dozen List from 2013-17.

How the American Library Association Has Fostered Unsafe and Sexually Exploitative Online Environments for Children in Libraries for Years

As a self-styled champion of the First Amendment, the ALA has for decades encouraged public libraries to keep their computers unfiltered. This misguided campaign has resulted in countless patrons of all ages accessing or being inadvertently exposed to hardcore pornography. Even child pornography is being viewed on library computers. It should be no surprise, then, that many cases of stalking, public masturbation, sexual harassment of librarians and other patrons, and even sexual assault have been documented at public libraries across the country.

"Dear American Library Association, please keep my library's Internet clean."

The ALA has also filed lawsuits (and LOST!) against laws requiring public libraries to use Internet filters. Despite losing and the courts making it clear that libraries have the right to filter out obscene content, the ALA continues to disseminate misleading information to libraries about their ability (and social responsibility) to filter hardcore pornography. Libraries look to the ALA for guidance on best practices and legal advice, but unfortunately the ALA refuses to give library administrators the facts about the law. The truth is that the First Amendment is not a license to disseminate or view obscene material in public spaces.

The ALA even goes so far as to encourage public libraries to refuse funding from federal and state sources which require that that libraries utilize filters (and which also often provide the necessary funding to cover the cost of installing good filters). This can lead to increased public expenditure at both the state and local levels simply because some libraries insist on offering hardcore pornography as an option to patrons.

Why the American Library Association’s Dangerous Approach to Pornography and Children is Even More Problematic Today

The ALA turning a blind eye to the harms of pornography is negligent at best and exploitative at the worst. And with children increasingly turning to the Internet for their entire lives it seems (especially with the COVID-19 pandemic), this problem of pornography and other dangerous material being easily available is an active health hazard for the children who use these libraries and other online materials.

Here is just a small sample from 2020 alone that shows just how dangerous the online world can be for children:

And that’s barely scratching the surface of the kind of online exploitation the American Library Association has no problem allowing on their computer systems and across libraries around the country! Not to mention the countless peer-reviewed research articles that show pornography has major impacts on the brain, relationships, and sexual behavior.

  • With over 90% of youth ages 12-18 using the Internet, the media has arguably become the leading sex educator in the U.S. today instead of parents and school education programs.
  • A survey of 813 U.S. teens and young adults (13–25), found that 26% of adolescents aged 13–17 actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. Research has demonstrated that children are more susceptible than adults to addictions and to developmental effects on the brain.
  •  A study of university students found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls had seen Internet pornography during adolescence. The researchers reported that the degree of exposure to paraphilic and deviant sexual activity before age 18 was of “particular concern.” Another sample has shown that among college males, nearly 49% first encountered pornography before age 13.
  • Many are consuming hardcore pornography, which may include depictions of sex with persons who look like children or teens, scenarios portraying incest, and other paraphilic interests such as sex with animals (i.e. zoophilia), excretory activities (i.e. coprophilia/urophilia), and violence against women, including rape (i.e. biastophilia) and torture (i.e. algolania). Today “… mainstream commercial pornography has coalesced around a relatively homogenous script involving violence and female degradation.”
  • Teenagers were more likely to experience particular forms of aggression and degrading or risky sex acts. Specifically, teenagers were more than twice as likely as adults (21.8 vs 9.4%) to be in videos featuring anal penetration, and about five times more likely (12.7 vs. 2.5%) to be in videos featuring forceful anal penetration with an apparent intent to cause pain. The researcher noted that the prevalence of aggressive and demeaning acts in videos featuring teenagers, “may signal to viewers of all ages that these acts are not only normative and legitimate, but perhaps even expected”.

Read more about the latest research on pornography and see what NCOSE is working on here.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the ALA is choosing to ignore and dismiss these facts to protect “free speech,” even if that “speech” is pornography that features incest, rape, or pedophilia.

Addressing the ALA Spreading Disinformation About the National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Now, for wanting to make local libraries safe for children and others from being exposed to hardcore pornography, NCOSE is being attacked by the ALA.

The American Library Association’s journal, The Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy, has put out a so-called “peer reviewed” article written by a graduate archivist at the notorious Kinsey Institute filled with disinformation about NCOSE, our history, and our efforts to educate the public on the harms of pornography and rid the world of all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation.

While we will not go into all the disinformation in the article, we wanted to make it crystal clear that its claims about the National Center on Sexual Exploitation being anti-birth control and anti-LGBTQ are patently false.

Having been engaged in these battles for years, there is one thing we know to be true: the more effective you are, the more likely it is that you will be attacked in an increasingly aggressive manner. This is especially true when your opponent cannot persuade people with honest and valid arguments and feels “forced” to resort to publishing claims about you that are simply untrue. This is the case with the ALA and the article its journal published which attempts to undermine NCOSE with false claims.

The American Library Association must stop crusading for the 'right' to expose children (and adults) to dangerous material and instead be proactive about protecting them from sexual exploitation. Click To Tweet

The ALA and the pornography industry know NCOSE’s track record: convincing 16 states to declare pornography to be a public health hazard; getting Google Images to make changes to its platform so children are not as easily exposed to hardcore pornography while make innocent searches; and working with Instagram to address problems such as adults grooming children via direct messages, sexualized comments on children’s photos, and likely pedophile networking and file sharing.

We know here at NCOSE that pornography is not a matter of free speech, unless free speech suddenly includes violence against women and children, incest, racist themes, and the other horrendous material that comes hand in hand with online pornography, or the active harm that unchecked online behavior that can seep into a child’s life through predatory grooming or even online trafficking. And with the world on the cusp of a new interest in child safety, now more than ever we need organizations like the ALA to stop crusading for the “right” to expose children (and adults) to dangerous and exploitative material and instead be proactive about protecting children from sexual exploitation.

We cannot engage in the battle against sexual exploitation without you standing by our side to help us protect innocent children from the harms of pornography, even at a seemingly “safe” place like your local library. Thank you for your continued partnership as together we look to create a world free of sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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