Bit of a kerfuffle in the book division of the Land of Pleasant Living over the decision by the Harford County Public Library not to stock the popular novelFifty Shades of Grey. Today The Sun publishes a letter by Mary Hastler, the library director, defending her decision, and it looks disingenuous.
No librarian wishes to be accused of censorship, and Ms. Hastler takes umbrage at the accusation. She merely "decision to not purchase 'Fifty Shades of Grey' ... after careful review and research following our materials selection process. The professional reviews characterized the content of the book as pornography. Since the Harford County Public Library does not purchase pornography, we did not buy the printed edition of the book."
It was not censorship, but a "materials selection policy." And if censorship is understood in some strict sense of suppressing a work, then Ms. Hastler did not censor. she merely withheld the book from her patrons.
I sense some discomfort with the matter in her further remarks that, after all, her patrons can get the book though the state eBook consortium for libraries, or request it from other libraries in the state through reciprocal borrowing. Yes, for those happy readers who have access to eBooks. And those patient readers willing to endure a long wait, since The Sun has reported that virtually every library copy of Fifty Shades in the state is checked out, with long waiting lists.
Ms. Hastler read the book, thought it nasty, and decided, despite its immense popularity, to deny it to her patrons. That this does not constitute censorship is logic chopped very fine.
Moreover, that "materials selection policy" forbidding pornography would have, at one time or another, kept Ulysses, Lady Chatterly's Lover, Lolita, and the works of Henry Miller, quaint as they look to our jaded modern sensibilities, off the shelves. Are they available in Harford County now? Perhaps more to the point, have American Psycho and the novels of Mo Hayder, in which the reader can find graphic sexual content, violence, sadism, pedophilia, whatnot, met the Harford County Public Library's rigorous materials selection policy?
I am willing to concede that Fifty Shades of Grey is an unpleasant book. Haven't read it, and nothing that I have seen about it inclines me toward reading it, but it is a popular book, widely read, with considerable interest.* Popularity, you know what the root word is, indicates public interest, and public libraries exist, or so I supposed, to serve the public.
I'll grant you that the Harford County Public Library system is within its rights to shun pornography, and I am in no way suggesting that they should include triple-X bondage flicks among the rental DVDs. But I think that Ms. Hastler made an unwise decision and is reacting to criticism with defensiveness and casuistry.
*Popularity, of course, has no necessary connection with literary merit or quality. Out of curiosity, I once read all the book on the New York Times best-seller list. It was 1965, and I liked Up the Down Staircase, but the rest of the lot left me determined never to repeat the experiment. Even so, I am content to let the people decide what they wish to read without imposing my tastes and values on them.
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