Don't go to any Harford County Public Library branch with hopes of checking out the popular new novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" unless you want them dashed.
The county library system has decided not to carry the bestselling trilogy by E. L. James, as one Bel Air woman recently found out. Library officials confirmed the Harford County system isn't carrying the erotic-themed novel, one of them explaining the book is viewed as "pornography," and hence not suitable for the Harford 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 Tuesday. "The library does not purchase pornography, and we therefore did not purchase the book."
The novel has been making headlines, mostly due to its explicit story line, and has been selling out in bookstores.
"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey," http://www.amazon.com describes the plot, "she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana's quiet beauty, wit and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too — but on his own terms."
There have also been spoofs on the popularity and graphic nature of the novel, including one recently on "Saturday Night Live."
With such word-of-mouth buzz, it's no surprise that Charlene Haupt wanted to read the book.
"I could purchase or borrow it [the book] if I wanted it," said Haupt, a former teacher. "It's not that that's the problem. It's the principle of a public library funded by my tax dollars [that] doesn't want to purchase the book that's sexually oriented."
Haupt, 68, recently went to the Bel Air branch on a few occasions trying to check out the book, but with no luck.
"The first time I went I simply asked for it," she said. Haupt, who was sure all copies would be checked out and wanted to reserve one for the future, said the librarian's "face just changed" when she made her request.
Haupt was told the branch didn't carry the book, nor would any other branch in the county.
"She said they chose not to buy it," Haupt added.
On a second visit to the library, Haupt asked a different librarian if the branch could get a book — any book — from a different county and have it delivered to the Bel Air location. She was told, "Yes."
Again, Haupt said the librarian's face changed when she asked for the book by name and was told they don't carry it.
"She kept saying I could go to another county to get it," Haupt said.
The librarian, she continued, told Haupt that HCPL uses the Marina system, which allows a county library system to order book or other materials from other counties in the state.
Because of this, according to what Haupt said she was told, the county has to have at least one copy in its system in order to borrow from another.
"I wanted to establish it was a case of censorship and I left," she said.
Haupt added that she tried requesting the book on HCPL's website through the Marina system and was unable to.
When The Aegis attempted to request the book Tuesday, it was successful, but did not receive a confirmation e-mail as the website said it would.
"I could pull any number of books [in the library] and mark passages that are sexually explicit," Haupt said, naming Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts novels. "You don't get to tell me what I should and shouldn't read by not carrying a book."
According to Bel Air branch manager Beth LaPenotiere, the situations may have been a matter of miscommunication.
"Each county can set up parameters of what they will and will not allow to go to another county," she wrote in an e-mail. She gave the example of Harford County not allowing non-print material to be loaned to other counties through Marina.
"If this was the case," the e-mail continued, "Marina usually pops up a message like 'This library system does not allow this item to circulate.' The lending county also has to physically have the book on its shelves when they get the request. If the book is not on their shelves, they cannot fill the request."
If a book is out in all county locations, LaPenotiere explained, "it is returned to the requesting library as 'unable to be filled.'"
HCPL staff know that requests for popular books don't get filled by Marina, she continued, "that is what they were trying to say, but were probably awkward in their phrasing."
Although Haupt is disappointed at the situation, she said she's "not in for a battle" and will most likely let things be.
"It irks me," she said. "I'm a voracious reader who reads everything and anything."
Ralston, the HCPL materials management administrator, explained that the library administrative team uses a library board approved Materials Selection Policy, as well as professional literary reviews, to select what books to purchase.
She also pointed out that HCPL does not purchase every book that is published — "We do not have the space nor the budget to do so," she wrote.
She added that "Fifty Shades of Grey" is "available from Harford County Public Library in eBook format through the state-wide Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium."
"The statewide consortium has its own selection policy that governs the shared state-wide collection. Each library belonging to the Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium has its own local selection policy that governs the purchases of their individual, local collections," the e-mail continued.
Of the 10 most frequently challenged books in 2011 as rated by the American Library Association, HCPL carries copies of all of them, including the wildly popular "The Hunger Games" trilogy, which has been criticized for its violence.
Harford isn't the only jurisdiction in the United States to say "no" to the "Grey" series, however.
Counties in Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin also decided to either pull the book from their shelves or did not purchase copies to carry in their branches.
Brevard County Library System in Florida had initially pulled its 19 copies of the book in the beginning of May, but after requests from residents it will again be available.
Baltimore County has nearly 400 copies, all of which have been checked out, are on hold or being ordered, as of Tuesday afternoon.
Cecil County has about 70 copies, which are also all checked out or on hold.