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"Libraries Debate Stocking ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Trilogy"

on Thursday, 24 May 2012. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

The New York Times

It did not escape the notice of Tim Cole, the collections manager for the Greensboro Public Library in North Carolina, that “Fifty Shades of Grey” was “of mixed literary merit,” as he put it with a heavy helping of Southern politeness.

He ordered 21 copies anyway.

His customers had spoken, Mr. Cole said, and like other library officials across the country, he had gotten the message: Readers wanted the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy. In recent weeks they have besieged libraries with requests for the books, signaling a new wave of popularity for these erotic novels, which have become the best-selling titles in the nation this spring.

In some cases demand has been so great that it has forced exasperated library officials to dust off their policies — if they have them — on erotica.

In April the trilogy, which includes the titles “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” was issued in paperback by Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, sending sales through the roof when the publisher printed and distributed the books widely for the first time.

That enthusiasm has carried over to libraries. At many, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by the previously unknown British author E. L. James, is the most popular book in circulation, with more holds than anyone can remember on a single title (2,121 and counting last Friday at the Hennepin County Public Library, which includes Minneapolis, up from 942 on April 9).

But despite misgivings about the subject matter — the books tell the tale of a dominant-submissive affair between a manipulative millionaire and a naïve younger woman — library officials feel that they need to make it available.

“This is the ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ of 2012,” Mr. Cole said. “Demand is a big issue with us, because we want to be able to provide popular best-selling material to our patrons.”

But some libraries have been caught on the other side of the issue. The Brevard County Public Library in east central Florida pulled copies of the books from its shelves after library officials decided they were not appropriate for the public.

“We have criteria that we use, and in this case we view this as pornographic material,” said Don Walker, a spokesman for the Brevard County government.

In Fond du Lac, Wis., the library did not order any copies, saying the books did not meet the standards of the community. In Georgia the Gwinnett County Public Library, near Atlanta, declined to make the books available in its 15 branches, saying that the trilogy’s graphic writing violated its no-erotica policy.

Last week a group of organizations that included the National Coalition Against Censorship formally responded, sending a letter to the library board in Brevard County scolding it for refusing to stock the book alongside standards like “Tropic of Cancer” or “Fear of Flying.”

“There is no rational basis to provide access to erotic novels like these, and at the same time exclude contemporary fiction with similar content,” the letter said. “The very act of rejecting erotica as a category suitable for public libraries sends an unmistakable message of condemnation that is moralistic in tone, and totally inappropriate in a public institution dedicated to serving the needs and interests of all members of the community.”

Joan Bertin, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said in an interview that it was unusual for a library to remove a book from its section for adults.

“The vast majority of cases that we deal with have to do with removing books to keep kids from seeing them,” she said. “That’s what makes this so egregious. There are some possible arguments for trying to keep kids away from certain kinds of content, but in the case of adults, other than the restrictions on obscenity and child pornography, there’s simply no excuse. This is really very much against the norms in the profession.”...

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