OPINION: End Library Censorship of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Local public libraries should uphold the principle of freedom of speech, even when a particular book might be generating controversy.

There has been a flurry of news stories regarding the availability—or in some cases the lack thereof—of the recently released book "Fifty Shades of Grey" and its two sequels, written by author E. L. James. Notably, some public libraries have chosen not to make these titles available for patrons, for fear of complaints regarding content.

Here in Maryland, one local system, the, has chosen not to purchase "Fifty Shades" because, according to Jennifer Ralston, the library system's head of materials management, "the library does not purchase pornography, and we therefore did not purchase the book." There have been some isolated cases of this form of censorship occurring nationally, most notably in individual library systems in Florida, and Wisconsin.  Favorably, in one of these cases (in Brevard County, Florida), the library in question rescinded their ban "in response to public demand."

I have read portions of "Fifty Shades of Grey," and can see why some might jokingly refer to the books as "mommy porn." The content does dwell heavily on the S&M sexual relationship between the two main characters, and doesn't pull any punches, so to speak, on the intimate details of their affair. However, I do not accept the premise that these books have no redeeming social value, and are the same as hard-core pornography. I bet the content in many other romance titles already available in the library isn't much different than that found in "Fifty Shades."

Looking at current trends, it would seem that area readers agree with my assessment of this popular title. Here in Baltimore County, well over 1,100 library patrons are presently on the waiting list to check out one of the 396 copies of the book that were purchased. The story is the same in Anne Arundel County, where nearly 600 people are waiting for the book, while nearly 1,000 Howard County readers patiently wait for their chance to flip through the pages of "Fifty Shades."

In order to remain relevant, public libraries must focus on giving readers what they want, rather than getting caught up in a dubious quest to maintain moral purity within their collections.

As someone who has been involved with library issues for some time, I am deeply troubled to see any public library choose not to purchase books for lending to patrons on the basis of a value judgment regarding content. In my role as a member of the Baltimore County Board of Library Trustees, I would never want to be in the position of imposing my understanding of either the value or appropriateness of a book onto readers in our county. Rather, I subscribe to the following concept, best expressed by the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: "If the 1st Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch."

What do you think is the role of public libraries in deciding what content is or is not appropriate for patrons? Do you think "Fifty Shades of Grey" counts as hard-core porn? Tell us in the comments.

Just Me. June 07, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Let's face it, women have been reading cheesy romance novels for years and I don't see this book as much different except it gained a huge amount of media coverage as many of the others tend to not do. I'm with the ones who say, if you want to read it buy it or borrow it.
Fiona Larbi June 07, 2012 at 11:03 PM
If people don't want to read the book, they don't have to check it! But who is the library to censor what readers can read. I have read the books and I have also got books from Harford County Public Library that are as graphic, if not worse!
Kirsten Dize June 08, 2012 at 05:44 AM
Fiona Larbi, that's a fair point. I know I read books from the Harford County Public Library as a young girl that made me blush. I feel as though a comparison study might prove interesting. Thoughts?
Jill K. Amoni June 08, 2012 at 07:16 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with you, Elihu. Unfortunately, many in our country have disavowed our Father. Everything you say is true... I will never venture into these dark place for it doesn't glorify my Father. I just wanted you to know in a world with not much to believe in, that my beliefs are aligned with yours and I agree with you... Many have sold their souls to secular society...
mnm July 19, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I'm on the 3rd book. I love them. Idc if the HCPL carries it or not. Buy it! I don't think its any worse then the romance novels my mom would read when I was a child. The media has made the books come off alot worse then they really are.


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