May 10, 2012...8:01 am

OIF statement on “Fifty Shades of Grey” controversy

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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.

8 Comments

  • Phyllis Hughes

    Banning books is stupid, regardless of the contents. Telling someone that a book is banned is a sure way to get them to read that book. If some people find a book offensive that doesn’t mean it would be offensive to everyone. No one and I mean no one will ever dictate what I will read or not read.

  • Irene Baldwin

    I’m just a library user, not a library professional, but I’ m kind of missing the controversy. If a library chooses NOT to stock erotic fiction, because it’s not the Library of Congress and can’t carry every book, I think that’s fine. If it caries some books in that genre, it needs to figure out if this book makes the cut according to the selection criteria you wrote about.

    (Having said all that, I’d be a little ticked off if my public library diverted money from say, the Children’s Summer Reading Program, to stock up on copies of 50 Shades of Grey)

  • Censorship is censorship. Let’s stop sugar coating it. There is great public demand for a book and a library decides not to get it–that is censorship and should not be happening in public libraries in the 21 Century.

  • There’s a tough call on a subject like this, especially for non-librarians like myself. However, when you Google “50 Shades of Grey” and many results call it “erotica,” I can see why some libraries choose not to stock it, particularly if they are in a conservative area. Then again, pick up any book in the so-called Romance section and see how much sex you find…
    As long as it is still available through interlibrary loan, I would be fine with it.

    The more controversy you attach, the more people will seek it out, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

  • If a library has a policy of purchasing all books on the NYT Best Sellers list, then it should buy this. But I don’t think it needs to purchase multiple copies of it. Let people buy their own porn. And I am not sure it is correct to identify fiction, especially popular fiction, with “information.”

  • “Banning books is stupid, regardless of the contents. Telling someone that a book is banned is a sure way to get them to read that book. If some people find a book offensive that doesn’t mean it would be offensive to everyone. No one and I mean no one will ever dictate what I will read or not read.” That is correct Phyllis Hughes. As a Library user am agreeing with you.

  • Has anybody mentioned that these books are unspeakably puerile, and so poorly written that they make the TWILIGHT saga look like Jane Austen? And yes, I do think that quality should be a consideration in collection development. We don’t buy every Danielle Steele book that comes down the pike, because we have to make judgements on value – which is not precisely the same thing as a value judgement. Will the book have staying power, and the ability to attract an audience beyond this first big kerfuffle? Should we also add hard-core porn to our DVD collections? Like these books, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, has virtually no value beyond the very obvious , and a lot of people would like it.

  • I would like to read this book someday. I can wait until my library has a copy, and my name makes its way to the top of the waiting list. If I decide I can’t wait that long, I will buy the book myself. As far as I know, that’s pretty much HOW the system is SUPPOSED to work.
    Now, I do know there are complicated issues surrounding this book, as well as ever-shrinking library resources in general. But I do have to defend the content here, based NOT on reading it, but reading every review I could get my hands on. It appears to be mediocre “mommy porn”, but it also appears that it touches on lots of sensitive issues regarding gender politics, social norms, sexual proclivities, and self-respect. I don’t think allowing it will, as Jenny Tripp implied in her 5/11 post, lead down a slippery slope toward hard-core porn DVDs. I would not necessarily disagree with a library choosing OTHER books AHEAD of this one, but striking THIS (or any) off a list based on its disagreeable content, or perceived lack of literary value, or predicted staying power, or any other similar negative judgement, may not be the wisest way to go.
    And, for the record, if we as a society ever start seeing coffee-house discussion groups about hard-core porn, and invite the producers to read from their scripts and sign copies at the local bookstore, and the local newspaper includes their critical review in the cinema section, THEN I think it would be okay for the library to carry them, too.
    ;-)


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