'Fifty Shades Freed'

The third book in the "Fifty Shades" trilogy, "Fifty Shades Freed," isn't available at any Harford County Public Library branch. (Photo by Nicole Munchel | Aegis staff / May 30, 2012)

Harford County Public Library has been under fire since it was discovered the system opted not to purchase copies of the popular and steamy trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey," a decision the library director stands behind.

"It's one of these tricky issues," the library system's director, Mary Hastler, said. "We take it very seriously when we look at [selecting books]."

The National Coalition Against Censorship, however, is hoping the library will change its mind.

The series by British author E. L. James has sparked a bit of controversy around the country, with libraries in Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin banning the book.

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Earlier this week, the Brevard County Library System in Florida returned the books to its shelves after initially pulling copies in the beginning of May.

The action came after the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote three letters to Brevard County representatives, asking them to carry the book once again and "open the conversation about the inclusion of erotica in libraries," according to the organization's official blog.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the storm "Fifty Shades" has created, the series has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list since March, when the first book debuted on the list at No. 1 the week of March 18.

Since then, the first two books have been on the list for a total of 12 weeks, and the final installment for 11 weeks — most of that time taking over the top three spots.

Additionally, the trilogy has spent the last 75 days in the top 100 on the Amazon.com Best Sellers list.

"When this book came out," Hastler said, "it was a different book than what's normally on the best sellers list."

What she was referring to are the numerous reviews of the book that not only called it horribly written, but also pornographic.

As Jennifer Ralston, HCPL materials management administrator, noted in an e-mail Tuesday, of few of those reviews came from The New York Times, which described the book as "mommy porn," and USA Today, calling it "NC-17 bondage."

"[I] looked at our [selection] policy and it's clear that we don't buy pornography for the library," Hastler said.

Several factors went into the decision not to buy copies of "50 Shades."

"When we purchase anything," Hastler explained, "we have our board-approved selection policy [to use]."

The library looks at different criteria in that policy — the quality of writing, what is popular, if there are holes in a certain genre collection, how well received an author is, the cost of a book, customer requests and looking at professional reviews.

If a certain title is on the fence, someone will read it to further research, which was the case with "Fifty Shades."

Hastler said she downloaded the first and second books in the trilogy and read them on her iPad one weekend.

"I agreed with the reviews of it being poorly written," she said, adding that it was an "interesting premise."

It was also clear to Hastler that the reviews describing at as pornography were opinions she agreed with.