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Friday, June 1, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: A library dilemma

      A few weeks ago I watched a skit on Saturday Night Live that featured women reading a book called "Fifty Shades of Grey."  Having never heard of the book I didn't think any more about the books content until it seems we have been bombarded with the promotion for this book. I couldn't help but read the Sun story yesterday about the controversy over whether libraries would provide their patrons this book.  Apparently the Harford  County Library has decided that the book is too racy for their library patrons and are not providing in its hard copy form.  Ironically through the statewide library system Harford patrons can download the e-book version.  With libraries generally stocking racy books by authors like Danielle Steele and others it is confusing for some libraries to define what is pornographic.  Obscenity is never as easy as Justice Potter Stewart's definition of " I know it when I see it." 

      Libraries have long been caught in the controversies over certain books.  Times change and morality and obscenity keep getting redefined.  The 1928 book "Lady Chatterley's Lover" caused an uproar that got it banded in many countries.   A few years ago there was a controversy over some racial terms used in the Huckleberry Finn book that caused many people to call for it to be pulled from some libraries.  A version of the book without the racial terms was printed by the publisher.  Howard County Library carried both versions of the book. 

    So I was thinking about how the Howard County Library evaluates what books to stock and how they judge purchasing controversial books.  When I checked the Howard County Library reserve requests for the first book in the Grey series there were 970 reserve requests as of yesterday.  Not sure if that is a record but it is probably going to eventually set the record. I talked with Cindy Jones the head of the Materials Management for the Library to determine how they evaluated this book.  Cindy indicated that there a number of factors they look at in determining whether to purchase a book.  Some of the most important factors are library patron requests, books on the best seller lists and books published by the major book publishers.  On these three categories the Shades of Grey series would be purchased.  When Random House, a major publisher, decided to pick up this originally published e-book it did provide some legitimacy for libraries to consider a purchase. I am sure that marketing students will soon be looking at the marketing of this book to learn how to take a run of mill product and turn it into a "have to have item."  Something like the marketing of the pet rock craze years ago.

To get a sense of the book without waiting for it at the library you can get the drift of the book from this audio reading of the book by Ellen DeGeneres.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The book was marketed to older 40ish women. Yet it is a hot topic amongst college and even high school young women. One concern I've heard voiced is that the sexual adventures featured in the storyline are far from mainstream. Will this effect their view of sex and how? What are the discussions parents should have with their teens and college kids about this book?