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  Favorably, in one of these cases (in Brevard County, Florida), the library in question rescinded their ban "in response to public demand."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.

Wings June 05, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Do you really want the state THAT involved in what you read or watch? You are acting like it is a book on child pornogaphy. I think if you read some of the "Romance" novels in the library you will be surprised what is in some of them. So should we stop the sale or rental of every book in Maryland that may cross the line in your eyes when it comes to sex? What about the books about murder or rape ? What makes them any less offensive in your eyes? I say get a life and lets worry about the important things wrong in this state. A book would be at the bottom of that list for sure.
Bill June 05, 2012 at 09:21 PM
The best thing to do is to cut up your card and mail it to them. Tell them you're taking a stand against censorship. This is America. Censorship should not be in our vocabulary. Sometimes it's tough to live in a country where you don't agree with someone else's opinion or choice of reading materials, but without that right we might as well be living in Iran. Who, by the way, probably banned the book as well. It's not fun to be compared to Iran. Is it?
Bill June 05, 2012 at 09:26 PM
As long as its kept out of the hands of children then this should be fine. But is there any demand for this there? You should go ask for it to be a part of regular circulation if you want it.
Don Thomann June 05, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Has it occured to any one but me that the library management has created more buzz about this book than it ever would have garnered on it's own? The publisher should send flowers...
Michelle June 06, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Thanks Jeffrey for your opinion/article. I am of the same opinion. While I don't think the library needs 396 copies of it, I don't think it should be banned. By the way people, it's not a "picture book" very different than your "Hustler" or "Juggs".
Hazzard Native June 06, 2012 at 12:50 AM
"Pornography" is a huge gray area. What one might consider as art, another may consider as vile. There are boundaries that need to be kept, and in doing so, not everyone is going to be happy. For instance, I would not be offended if my children saw a book with pictures of a woman's breasts, so long as the context was not sexual or submissive, but I would be offended if my children were exposed to text that describes scenes of sado masochism, bondage, and other sexually deviant behavior. Pornography is not only images, it can be written imagery as well.
Elihu Smails June 06, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Wings: If that is what we need to do to prevent the erosion of our Christian nation the answer is definitely yes. We are our brother's keeper and cannot sit idly by while the our community becomes a cesspool of obscenity. Exposure to material steeped in sin leaves open the door for the devil to take root in your heart. I want my tax dollars to only be spent on library books that uplift the teachings of Christ and promote Christian values and brotherhood. How can anyone object to that unless they are unsaved, unchurched or a member of a heathen religion or cult?
E Dub in Bel Air June 06, 2012 at 02:02 AM
It's pornographic fiction. Spin it any way you want, but the fact is, it's a work of fiction based heavily on pornographic topics / material. Ironically, if it had been written by a man, I'm sure the ideas of male dominance over a woman, female submissiveness, punishment, bondage, and sexual violence (even if consensual)... would generate a lot of outrage and disgust about it's contribution to unhealthy stereotypes and the degradation of females in general. And nobody would be all that concerned about finding some "deeper meaning" behind it all. Pornography of ANY kind doesn't belong in public libraries in my opinion...
Wings June 06, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Oh give me a break. If you don't want to read it then don't read it. Maybe you should live in a country where EVERYTHING you read, wear, and say is pushed on you and you have no choice. Maybe then you will understand what freedom is all about. And just because someone reads this book that doesn't make them any less Christian than you.
GsMom June 06, 2012 at 03:38 AM
If the book is something that you prefer not to read, then DO NOT read it. Aside from the "pornographic" book, has anyone considered positives? "Mommy porn", is what the book is often refered to, any women that has been child bearing often loses self esteem, intimacy lacks in the relationship, is it wrong that this book may help them regain their intamacy levels. Just one example. So many people are concerned with the adult book. Do what everyone else does, read the description and if you do not like what you see put it back. Are people that offened by words that are not harmful? Or are their scared that they might actually enjoy the content. I would not be 600th on a waiting list, I would have purchased it. Force people to turn it into the local police station? Did I read that, I think that Harford Co has a lot more serious issues than a top selling book. Real crime, drug related, murder related, etc... let's go back to the book burning ages, will that make you happy. Real Images/Videos of real porn are free, and clicks away on the internet for any age to view. Afterall, aren't books made for the imagination and pleasure?
Wings June 06, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Well said GsMom..I sometimes can not believe what I read on here.
Ashley June 06, 2012 at 12:43 PM
... You sound like a lunatic Elihu. This country is not all Christian nor should it be forced to follow Christianity's ways. I don't want my tax dollars spent on books promoting Christian views. I prefer books that promote free thinking. So where does that leave us? This world does not revolve around Christians. I wish that the extremists like you would realize that. Like Wings said: "If you don't want to read it then don't read it.", but do not try and force your close minded way on everyone. This is a FREE country and we can read what we choose to.
fred June 06, 2012 at 12:56 PM
sounds like you would also want burn at the stake anyone or anything that is not acceptable to you,ashley says you sound like a lunatic and that is only because it is true
fred June 06, 2012 at 12:57 PM
and neither does censorship
BelAirChris June 06, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Unfortunately the law above is irrelevant, as the book does not fall under the legal definition of obscene material. In order for the above law (or any obscenity law) to apply, the work in question must be declared obscene in some official/legal capacity. Obscenity is not guaranteed simply because something offends.
Kirsten Dize June 06, 2012 at 03:24 PM
I love the debate going on here. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and he mentioned off-hand that almost every woman he knows is reading this book. I was intrigued. His observation isn't off the mark for the nation apparently. The book is at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list this week. Is that typical for porn? http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/overview.html
Jeff June 06, 2012 at 03:33 PM
The library can do what they see is right. They aren't preventing you from reading it. If you want to read it, go buy it.
Ashley June 06, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I sound like a lunatic how exactly Fred? Sounds like you didn't grasp what I was going for. My point is that we're a free country to believe in and live our lives as we please. Nobody should be forcing their views on anyone else. I don't believe that everyone should think and believe the same thing I do, nor would I want everyone to. I get tired of bible thumpers going around making everything out to be "sin", trying ban everything, and "bring everyone to God". Not everyone is interested and I don't believe it's right to try and force that opinion on everybody by banning things that you don't deem acceptable.
Ashley June 06, 2012 at 04:07 PM
So does censorship belong on television Fred? I don't see how that's any different than a bookshelf at the local library.
Wings June 06, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I don't know how old you are but this book is really not much different than some of the Steele or Collins books that were out when I was a young adult some 20 yrs ago. I remember a group of us girls buzzing about this or that steamy scene or scenes in a book. Difference is we didn't have internet or Facebook to make the buzz bigger. Books now days can shoot to the top simply by Facebook reviews alone. You didn't hear of books like this being pulled from shelves in the past, and trust me there are many. It's simply a sign of the times and people who feel the need to push their beliefs down your throat.
fred June 06, 2012 at 05:20 PM
my construction of the comment was not clear, i did not me you ashley i meant smails
fred June 06, 2012 at 05:21 PM
the comment was about public libraries not television
Ashley June 06, 2012 at 05:32 PM
It's not really all that different though. They don't find the content appropriate, so they're choosing not to distribute it. It's still available online and in stores. I personally don't care one way or the other. I feel like if someone wants to read it enough they'll buy it or download it.
fred June 06, 2012 at 06:50 PM
its not that different except there is a regulatory agency involved with tv, the fcc. the constraints on tv should not be a harsh as what they are, the public libraries should be an outlet for free thinking.
Siege June 06, 2012 at 06:52 PM
You have a very interesting Christian perspective Mr/Ms Smails. Have you considered starting a blog here on the Patch to share more of your views? Perhaps you could start with a post about foster children.
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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