OIF statement on “Fifty Shades of Grey” controversy

The American Library Association supports libraries and librarians across the country, who face difficult decisions every day about how to allocate scarce resources in order to meet the wide-ranging information needs of their communities.

To guide decisions about what materials to select for a collection, libraries develop selection policies, which outline the principles and priorities they will follow in selecting items for the library.  Libraries also strive to be responsive to the requests of community members in choosing materials.  Selection is an inclusive process that seeks out those materials that will best satisfy the community’s needs for information, entertainment, and enlightenment.

Recent controversy over the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sparked discussion about the line between selection and censorship in libraries.  Where selection decisions are guided by the professional ethics of librarianship — which emphasize inclusion, access, and neutrality — libraries choosing not to purchase materials that fall outside their defined collection policies and needs are not censors.  Where partisan disapproval or doctrinal pressure guides libraries’ decisions to select or remove materials, then censorship can result.

Materials like “Fifty Shades of Grey” challenge libraries’ professional ideals of open, equitable, unbiased access to information.  They raise important questions about how libraries can best include and reflect the diversity of ideas in our society — even those which some people find objectionable.  In all circumstances, ALA encourages libraries making decisions about their collections to keep in mind their basic missions and the core values of intellectual freedom and providing access to information.