Fifty Shades of Grey is a grey area for public libraries

Florida libraries are used to seeing hot weather, but there is something too hot for even them to handle.

The Brevard County Public Libraries system in Florida decided to pull “Fifty Shades of Grey” from their shelves last week according to The Palm Beach Post.  It’s an erotic novel that heavily features BDSM.  The title has been the top-selling ebook everywhere for quite awhile.

Cathy Schweinsberg, Library Services Director, said that the book was pulled because “it doesn’t meet our selection criteria”.  Apparently, they had purchased several copies but didn’t realize what it was until the press started referring to the book as “mommy porn”.  Schweinsberg said they removed it because they “don’t collect porn”.

“Fifty Shades” has gotten all sorts of media attention since it hit the best sellers charts.  It’s unique because it is the first time that an erotic novel has been able to become a best seller.  It’s even more unusual because virtually all the readers of the book are women.

The book shines a light on the incredible challenge that librarians face in trying to handle the issue of censorship.  Librarians have a very difficult job already in being tasked to build a valuable collection that appeals to their patrons.  It makes it even more difficult when they have to decide if material is appropriate for all their patrons.

Libraries solve this problem in different ways, but usually they choose to not get involved in censorship.  They side with freedom on speech.  Some libraries want to be so sure that they are not censoring content that they will even allow porn on library computers.

Deciding to carry “Fifty Shades” is quite different than deciding to allow porn on your computers.  Little kids that are walking by a computer screen and that are exposed to porn is much more damaging than having “Fifty Shades” on a shelf.

Libraries usually choose whatever content they want to offer to their patrons.  Some offer pornographic magazines while others choose to avoid anything pornographic.  Some allow porn on their computers and others strongly filter all porn.

For most libraries, the decision to offer porn is not a black or white decision.  It’s usually a shade of grey.