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Controversial 'Fifty Shades of Grey' in circulation, and in high demand, in Carroll County libraries

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Unlike in Harford County — where the book, "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E. L. James, has been labeled as "pornographic" and won't appear on shelves — residents of Carroll County can go to a local library and reserve a copy of the controversial best-seller.

If they don't mind waiting, that is.

Currently, Carroll County Public Library has 62 print copies of the book and, as of Sunday, June 3, all were checked out, with 383 "hold" requests on file for people waiting in queue.

The library system has nine copies of the audio book of the novel, and they're all out too, with 45 hold requests.

"This is a very big reserve list for us," said Concetta Pisano, materials manager for CCPL, in an email response to an inquiry from The Eagle.

She said the number of people waiting to read the book, "exceeds holds that we have had on popular authors like James Patterson or John Grisham, and the holds list continues to grow."

The sexually explicit book, about an affair between a literature student and a young, wealthy entrepreneur she's interviewing, is the first of a trilogy — the subsequent books are "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed."

In order, the three occupy the top three spots on the New York Times Best Seller List.

But the Harford County library system decided not to carry the erotic-themed novel. A staffer in the system told The Aegis newspaper that the book is viewed as "pornography," and hence is not suitable for the library system's shelves.

"In the case of '50 Shades of Grey,' we read mainstream reviews that characterized the content as pornography," Jennifer Ralston, HCPL materials management administrator, wrote in an e-mail to The Aegis. "The library does not purchase pornography, and we therefore did not purchase the book."

Other library systems have bought it — some in a big way.

In Baltimore County, that system has 396 copies circulating — all were out last week, with more than 1,100 hold requests on file. That system has 18 libraries, and one official said it bought "boatloads" of the book, just to keep on top of the holds.

Pisano said that in Carroll County — which operates six branches, in Eldersburg, Mount Airy, Westminster, Finksburg, Taneytown and North Carroll — the decision to purchase the book was made after the library system had a number of requests from customers asking when it would be available.

"There had also been an enormous amount of media coverage pushing the book to become one of the most talked about subjects in magazines, newspapers and television which resulted in increased interest in the book," Pisano said. "And on top of that, the book became the object of a publishers' bidding war, finally being picked up by Vintage Press, which is owned by Random House.

"It was obvious that libraries needed to respond to this overwhelming interest and provide customers with an opportunity to have access to the book," she said. "It is an overriding principle of CCPL that we do our best to meet the demands of our community and there was indeed local interest in this book.

Pisano said the decision to purchase it was made by the system's Materials Management Department.

"We make all selection decisions for all materials purchased for CCPL, and it was made with the support of CCPL administrators," Pisano said in her email.

She also noted the CCPL Collection Development policy, which states: "The library recognizes that many materials are controversial and that any given item may offend some library user. Selection will not be made on the basis of any anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the work in relation to collection building and to serving the interests of Carroll Countians."

Pisano said there have been no complaints about the book from any customers.

Keith Meisel and Marissa Gallo contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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