E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey may be at the top of New York Times’ Best Sellers, but don’t look for it on the shelves of some public libraries.
The Gwinnett County Public Library in Georgia touts its philosophy to “…inform, inspire, enrich, and amaze,” unless it involves whips or chains.
Like many other libraries, Gwinnett County has drawn a line in the sand to bar the controversial trilogy. The book, which started off as a self-published e-book, has become a paperback sensation.
The series features a sadomasochism affair in detail and labels itself as erotic fiction. Not surprisingly, some people have a problem with this.
When asked why Gwinnett County Public Library would not be carrying the best-seller, Deborah George, director of the county’s material management, cited policy. A careful review of the materials management policy, found here, provides a different outlook.
Indeed, the written policy spells out a message of tolerance. It defends access to ideas, recreational interests, and reinforces the idea that they are a progressive library. You can almost hear the hum of patriotic tunes in the background; perhaps even visualize the Founding Fathers standing tall behind a policy that represents the pinnacle of tolerance and anti-censorship.
The policy goes so far as to state, “The library does not make judgments concerning what is suitable material for any individual, but offers professional guidance to customers by applying classifications useful in locating specific topics, genres, and age level materials.”
But the line must be drawn somewhere, right? Here’s a list of some other books throughout the ages that were barred from libraries at one point or another:
- American Heritage Dictionary
- Catcher in the Rye
- Grapes of Wrath
- The Joy of Sex
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
What do these books have in common? Someone, somewhere was offended by something in the book. Curse words, unflattering drawings, or sensitive social topics have often sparked the fuse for easily offended readers. The other element that these books share is their celebrated return to free trade at the local library.
Many libraries may very well seek to protect children from obscene content, but at what point are actions taken under the guise of protecting children really just censoring material from adults? Most libraries already give parents control over what content may be checked out.
If libraries were the be-all-end-all judge of which books were fit for public consumption, we might not have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because of the language. Uncle Tom’s Cabin might have “painted the wrong picture,” of slavery. Both books suffered scrutiny and censorship.
Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica might have been “unfit to be printed,” as once noted by Thomas Pellet, one of his colleagues. Instead, we got calculus. In retrospect, maybe high school would have been less taxing without calculus.
In 1964, nine of the finest legal minds of the time in the highest court of the land tried to define obscenity and, with all of their eloquence, years of experience, and education, could only say “I know it when I see it.”
It’s a good thing that libraries in a growing number of states feel more qualified to make a determination on obscenity than the Supreme Court of the United States has been able to achieve in the half-century since that ruling. Clearly, free-thinking adults need someone else to make the decision for them.
Learn more about the Shades of Grey trilogy here.