LETTER: Harford County Library Opposes Censorship

This letter from library director Mary Hastler was submitted to Patch in the wake of controversy surrounding the book series "Fifty Shades of Grey."

has been raging in Harford County since the library system decided not to purchase the book for its collection.

director said the book is "pornographic," and the library system will not carry the book, according to a story on WBAL.com.

Hastler recommended the board not carry the book after she read the first two installments in the series, according to the same story on WBAL.com.

The book, by E. L. James, is part of a trilogy that has been topping the New York Times Best Sellers list for weeks.

The novel has been a constant check-out item at other area libraries in Baltimore County and Cecil County, according to a story on ExploreHarford.com.

Critics of the library's decision .

In a letter to a concerned citizen that was also sent to Patch, Hastler talks about the library system's opposition to censorship and the controversy over the book.

The following is Hastler's unedited letter to a concerned citizen:

Anne Baker
Bel Air, MD 21015

RE: Response to Ms. Baker's Letter

June 4, 2012

Dear Ms. Baker,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts regarding the book, Fifty Shades of Grey. Harford County Public Library does not condone censorship or self-censorship of any definition. Harford County Public Library serves all of the Harford County community, and as a result its collections are diverse and reflect multiple viewpoints. The Library supports the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, Intellectual Freedom and access to these materials and strives to build, through the selection process, a strong and vibrant collection. We are strong advocates against censorship—a critical and essential role of a public library in any community.

The Library does not purchase every book that is published and follows a Library Board of Trustees approved Materials Selection Policy. This policy details criteria used in making purchasing decisions. Professional reviews are used to support purchasing decisions and also when not to purchase materials. The decision to not purchase the book was made after careful review and research following the materials selection process. The professional reviews characterized the content of Fifty Shades of Grey as pornography. The Harford County Public Library does not purchase pornography and therefore did not purchase the book in print.

Harford County Public Library participates in the statewide library eBook consortium and the book is available through eBook format to our customers Maryland public library systems rotate selecting titles to add to the eBook collection based on their own Board approved selection policy. In addition, it is available in print through the statewide reciprocal borrowing program and customers may place a request through the Harford County Public Library website using their library card. However, not all public libraries in Maryland own the book in print and the book will not be sent until it has been on the shelf at the loaning library for six months.

The purpose of following a Board approved Materials Selection Policy and process is to prevent any type of censorship and to build a collection, that as you state, “serves its mission of providing a broad diversity of points of view and subject matter.” The decision to not purchase the book is a result of selection—not censorship. The book, based on multiple and consistent reviews, did not meet the selection policy criteria. Censorship would be denying the purchase IF the book met the selection policy and criteria. I encourage you to visit any of the branches of the Harford County Public Library and explore the diverse collection.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns.


Mary Hastler, Director
Harford County Public Library

Hazzard Native June 11, 2012 at 06:00 PM
That is a great explanation. So folks, for all of you out there who wish to read pornography, but do not wish to pay for it, you can either download it to your Kindle, or you can order the print version through the state system, using your HCPL card, and you can even pick it up at your local HCPL branch. Now, get over it!
Wings June 11, 2012 at 07:49 PM
There are PLENTY of books already sitting pretty on those library shelves that could fall in the category of pornography. However they were published long before the internet and Facebook, so there was never this buzz going on about them. The whole thing is stupid, the book is stupid and all this hype over it is stupid. People really need to find better ways to occupy their time than worry about a book.
booksntools June 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Fifty shades of Illogical, an excellent response from an annoyed librarian can be found at: http://blog.libraryjournal.com/annoyedlibrarian/2012/06/11/fifty-shades-of-illogical/
Hazzard Native June 12, 2012 at 01:06 AM
That is a great commentary, thank you for the link!
Jeff June 12, 2012 at 02:44 AM
That annoyed librarian article was both reasonable and hilarious.
HarfordLassie June 12, 2012 at 03:32 AM
I've lost count of how many CD's are on the racks in which the music is laced with profanity and pornographic sexual content, and movies on the shelves that show graphic sex and violence, but somehow this series of books is "different". I wonder what the library would think if "Lady Chatterly's Lover" were released now?
AG June 12, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Why is this even an issue. If it is that important, buy your own copy. This is about where to spend the limited funds of the library. In these tough economic times, children's books should come first. Until things improve, the adults should buy their own books.
Wings June 12, 2012 at 02:01 PM
My point exactly Joan.
paul mcandrew June 15, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Hurray, for an all too often missed opportunity to strike a blow for decency. Censorship haters quickly swell the ranks of the intolerant when they themselves are deemed to be offensive. Pity. I can hear it now, "How dare you, I want my smut, I want it now, and I want someone else to pay for it." "Good on ya mate" to whomever in the HCPL went PC rogue and said NO, not this time buddy boy!
friedman July 21, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I have not read the book nor have I read reviews on it , so I can not judge the context, but really the libary has a proceure they apparently follow, so the board decided not to purchase the book based on their guidelines. Let them do their job and let's not over react, if one is unhappy with their process I am ure there are ways to voice ones opinion or if it is that important than dobate a few copies to the libary after you have read it.


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