The question as to whether the leadership of the Harford County Public Library was justified in its decision not to stock the popular "Fifty Shades of Grey" remains an open one.

From one perspective, it's worth noting that even the Library of Congress, despite popular belief, does not have a copy of everything ever printed. It's just not possible to stock everything that's printed. Then again, any written work that achieves New York Times Best Seller status, as the "Fifty Shades" series has, is worthy of serious consideration. Worth keeping in mind on this side of the discussion is that some of pop star provocateur Madonna's lurid coffee table picture books have made the Times' list.


What isn't an open question is the matter of whether the Harford County Public Library system has sexually explicit content in its collection. Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, a Republican who represents Bel Air, commended the library system on not stocking the "Fifty Shades" novels, which is a perfectly legitimate position, but went on to praise the library system for not stocking works characterized as erotica, or, as McMahan put it, "smut."

A quick on-line search of the county library system's collection reveals a selection of novels classified by Amazon.com as "bodice rippers" by a leading writer of the genre, Rosemary Rogers, who has penned such titles as "A Daring Passion," "Scandalous Deception," "Bound By Love" and "Bride for a Night," all of which are available for check-out in Harford County.

Also available in the Harford County Library collection are numerous works by Henry Miller, including the perennial high school favorites "Tropic of Capricorn" and "Tropic of Cancer," not to mention his "Letters to Anaïs Nin," a collection characterized in one collection by the notation "A literate passion."

Then there's the titillating and witty bit of erotica by Erica Jong entitled "Fear of Flying," also available in the Harford County Public Library collection.

Stocking the shelves of a public library system is a challenge. So many books are published each year, it would be impossible for just about any library system to purchase copies of everything. Then there's the issue of musical recordings and movies, which the libraries also have in their collections and also cost money to stock.

Given that the library system hasn't been shy about stocking works with sexual themes, it's reasonable to conclude the decision on the "Fifty Shades" series wasn't based on prudishness. There is the argument, by the way, that the books are no great shakes when it comes to writing.

It is silly, however, to presume, as Councilman McMahan appears to have done, that because the "Fifty Shades" series isn't part of the local collection that there is nothing provocative in the Harford County Public Library system. Councilman McMahan's assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, having provocative content in the library collection, regardless of the subject matter, is more than just a good thing; it is one of the reasons we have public libraries in the first place.