I was waiting for it to happen ever since it entered the pop culture mainstream and so it has finally come to pass:
The Brevard County Public Library system in east central Florida has pulled copies of the books from its shelves after officials decided they were not suitable for public circulation.
“We view this as pornographic material,” Don Walker, a spokesman for the Brevard County government, said in an interview on Friday. “I have not read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ but I’ve read reviews of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ From what I understand, it’s a lot about male dominance and female submissiveness.”
The Brevard County Library director decided to take it off the shelves of the county’s 19 library branches.
They originally had bought 17 copies of the trilogy.
But after ready reviews, they decided the book didn’t belong in their collection.
“Well the criteria is we don’t put pornography on our bookshelves and that’s in general right now what the tone of this book is,” said Brevard Co. Government Communications Director Don Walker. “I mean if you read any of the reviews, they’re saying that it’s a book that’s based largely on male dominance, female submissiveness, soft porn. I’ve heard it described as mommy porn.”
The best-selling book “Fifty Shades of Grey” will not be found on the shelves at Fond du Lac Public Library.
Library Director Ken Hall said there were no plans to purchase the controversial book, which delves into romance and sadomasochism.
“‘We don’t collect erotica’,” Hall said he was told by the person who orders books for the library — and he supports the decision.
Public Library officials are explaining their decision not to purchase a popular, yet controversial, romance novel. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a New York Times best selling book and will soon become a major motion picture.
The novel also contains a lot of sex. One book reviewer even dubbed it “mommy porn.”
“We have to take a look at the work as a whole,” FDL Public Library Director Ken Hall said. “What is in the book other than salacious material? So far, we haven’t found anything in it(other than salacious material).”
Based on anecdotes I’ve heard from librarians over the last couple of years, this whole situation sounds like a replay of the Madonna “Sex” book controversy from the 1990’s. Some libraries won’t order it, some will find the book being challenged (both successfully and unsuccessfully), some libraries circulate it and then realize what they’ve done and pull it (opening themselves up to another kind of controversy), and the rest libraries will just treat it like any other material. Over the next year or so, there will be a steady output of librarian based intellectual freedom naval gazing in which the objective and theoretical principles of collection development will square off against the on-the-ground reality of local collection policies and community needs. The tension between the two viewpoints will rise but not resolve itself.
Lather, rinse, and repeat as each successive book comes out in this trilogy. We’re in for a couple of iterations of this issue.
Personally, this sort of controversy brings up the question, “How is this book different than anything else in your average romance section?” Apparently, based on quote above from FDL Director Ken Hall, the difference between Fifty Shades and those other romance books is that the latter actually have something called a plot. So long as Jane is trying to find her place in publishing world or Bob is trying to overcome the death of his wife, they can get all the nookie they want. But if I was to cut out all of the plot elements and just palce the erotic scenes run back to back, it would be potentially unacceptable for inclusion. I’m glad to know there is such a fine distinction between romance and smut.
In any case, I feel that Banned Books week should be paired with “National Update Your Collection and Challenge Material Policies Because You Probably Need To (No, Seriously, Do It)” week. While Fond du Lac can point to a policy in place, Brevard just looks incompetent by adding the book to the collection and then unilaterally removing it based on reviews (the same reviews available to anyone with an internet connection). I have a feeling that there is more to the Brevard decision since the quotes from officials down there don’t pass the smell test for me, but that’s something for time to tell.
My prediction is that, in ten years time, this will be another fabulous footnote in some library science textbook on intellectual freedom. What do you think?
UPDATE: The lovely and awesome people of Twitter have pointed out a post on Heroes and Heartbreakers linking to a search of the Brevard County Libraries catalog showing books that are erotically on par or even more explicit than Fifty Shades of Grey. In responding to my post on Twitter, Robin Bradford and glossaria note that library carries authors such as Zane (specifically The Sisters of APF: “the indoctrination of soro ride dick”), Lora Leigh (“known (specifically) for her hot anal sex scenes”), Anne Rice/Roqualaure (Sleeping Beauty trilogy), Anais Nin (including Delta of Venus), and Joey Hill. This does beg the question as to whether this removal is more about this particular book than erotic literature collection in general.
(h/t to Robin and glossaria for sharing their expertise!)
While the naughty novel doesn’t check out with local library officials, a quick look at the Brevard system’s online catalogue reveals a solid stash of some of the most erotic and enduring literature.
Copies of “The Complete Kama Sutra” are available through the Cocoa Beach, Mims/Scottsmoor, Palm Bay and Titusville branches. Also up for grabs countywide: “Fanny Hill,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “Fear of Flying,” “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lolita.”
So what makes “Fifty Shades of Grey” different?
“I think because those other books were written years ago and became classics because of the quality of the writing,” Schweinsberg said. “This is not a classic.”