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Friday, May 11, 2012

My Thoughts on the Fifty Shades of Grey Controversy

So now that Fifty Shades of Grey is a huge hit, libraries are starting to be asked to pull the book from their shelves because of how racy it is.  Click here for an update on the issue.

Yesterday, as a staff we had a brief discussion about the entire issue.  First, I want to say that thankfully, we have little to no chance of someone in Berwyn asking us to pull the book.  We live in a fairly liberal community, right next to a fairly liberal major city (Chicago), and there are over 1,250 holds (and growing) on this title in our immediate system.  By the way, those are numbers James Patterson wishes he had (he is a regular 500+ holds author).

But, not everyone is as lucky as us on this front.  So here are some of the larger issues revolving around the controversy as I see them, with comments. Warning: I have strong opinions on this issue, but hey, it's my blog.

First, I should be very clear that we did not buy Fifty Shades of Grey at first.  Why?  It got terrible professional reviews.  Our policy states that we only buy well reviewed materials which fit our patrons' reading preferences.  Now, steamy romance does fit in with our collection and its readers, but only well reviewed ones.

However, we also have a collection development policy which states that we buy #1 best sellers.  So as soon as the novel hit the top of the charts, we ordered 3 copies.

I do not know of a public library which does not buy huge, runaway best sellers as a rule.  But I do know many libraries were struggling with this.  When I was in KC last month, multiple librarians asked me for help in convincing their Directors to let them by Fifty Shades of Grey.  My first response was to ask if they bought #1 best sellers.  They all said, "yes," but that their Directors were afraid of possible challenges.

This makes me livid since it is self censorship.  My advice to them, and to you if you are having this problem right now, is to make up a flier that says, "Dear [insert library name here], Please buy Fifty Shades of Grey so I can read it.  Thank you.  [signature here].  Make 100 copies and hand it to each and every patron who asks for the book.  Have them sign it and hand these in to the Director.

Normally, if a challenge comes, our first defense as librarians is the positive review.  But since this novel is lacking those, you can defend your inclusion of this erotic novel in your collection with a paper trail of requests.

Okay, next issue.  The book has a lot of graphic sex involving bondage for pleasure.  The last time we saw a bestselling phenomenon which was blatantly about graphic depictions of sex it was when Madonna's nonfiction coffee table book Sex came out.  Here, very few libraries purchased it, and those that did had strict rules on borrowing it.  However, here the issue was mostly the photographs. With Fifty Shades of Grey there are no photographs.

But let's look at really how steamy this book is.  I have not read the entire thing yet (I am letting the patrons have it first), but I have read excerpts.  First of all, as our fearless leader Kathy told me, it is not any more racy than the vast majority of our Urban Fiction collection. Kathy should know, she is in charge of that collection.  Seriously people, have you read Zane?  And she is the most mainstream of that group.  Those books fly off the shelves.  Teenagers go through them like candy, and no one says a thing.

Let's get even more mainstream than Zane though. Here are some fairly steamy authors for whom we automatically buy every single book they release, no reviews needed:
And this is not even taking into consideration the hundreds of Harlequin paperback series books we have that are even steamier.  And you can buy those in the grovery store!

But even so.  Some people are arguing that it is the bondage angle that is making people uncomfortable.  Here I say all you have to do is look to another bestselling hit, Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy which has a very large subplot involving Lizbeth being raped by her guardian and her then exacting revenge on him later.  Both graphic scenes involve sex and bondage [I have read them].  And there bondage is used for violence.  In Fifty Shades of Grey it is for pleasure.  Which is worse?  Obviously violence, yet no one even hinted at removing the Larsson books from libraries.

I think the main problem here is that since Fifty Shades of Grey has become such a huge hit, many people who do not normally read romance are being introduced to the genre through this fairly racy novel.  They are a bit shocked by what they got from the library, but do not understand that there is quite a bit of fiction out there like this.  So, they get their panties in a bunch [pun intended], are embarrassed that they read it, and start picking on the library about it.

Here's my opinion.  People, read what you want.  Let others read what they want.  And if a book is popular enough, we will have it at the library so that people have access to it, no matter what it is about.  We don't care; we just want people to have access to the books they want to read.  So, why should you care?  We are buying for the entire community, not just one angry person.  Mind your own business. 

My final comments are for those libraries out there who are pulling the book.  You are an embarrassment.  Stick to your guns people.  If you bought the book, you had your reasons.  Don't pull it off the shelf.  Stand up for yourselves.  If you don't have enough respect for yourself to do it on your own, use the arguments in my post to help you. And if you are someone who is pulling the book, you might as well quit.  You are not upholding your end of the bargain as a public librarian anymore.


Sarah Elsewhere said...

Wish you had a button that said "right on."

Christine said...

Well said, and an echo of my sentiments exactly. I have read all three books in the trilogy and they are no racier than things that JR Ward, Laurell K. Hamilton, or Larissa Ione produce. Fifty Shades just happens to be everywhere in the media so it is gathering more criticism than these other series that libraries have been buying for years without a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Preach On Becky!

I have read this novel and I can honestly say it is not that obscene. It has ALOT of sex in the book, but so do so many other titles. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is simply controversial because it is extremely popular right now. This is not the first erotic novel to be written and it sure won’t be the last. As librarians we are in the business of people and we should give the people what they want; and right now they want this book.


Abby said...

Sing it, sister!

Cari said...

I absolutely agree with you 100%. From now on, if someone asks me about it, I'm going to point them to this post. I have no desire to read it myself, but I will defend anyone else's right to read it.