A book called “Fifty Shades of Grey” is stirring up quite a bit of controversy at some libraries across the country.
For the Hall County Library System, though, the choice of whether to carry the book isn’t about controversy — it’s about literary merit.
“We have a purchasing policy we follow,” library director Adrian Mixson said. “It has to have some kind of literary merit.”
Mixson said the system does not own “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a racy romance trilogy popular with some middle-aged women.
A few employees purchase books for the library based on reviews of the books, and they have not purchased this one, he said.
This week, the books hold the top three spots on the New York Times best-seller list.
Some libraries in Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida have either declined to order the book or pulled it from shelves. Other states soon may follow.
One of those library systems that will not be stocking the books is Gwinnett County’s.
“We do not collect erotica at Gwinnett County Public Library. That’s part of our materials management collection policy,” said Deborah George, Gwinnett’s director of materials management. “So, E.L. James’ three books in the trilogy fit that description.”
Mixson said it may be possible for Hall County readers to get the book from the library through the Georgia PINES catalog. A search of that catalog shows almost 60 copies, only four of which were available on Friday afternoon.
Libraries in Dawson County and Lumpkin County have copies of the book checked out, according to that catalog.
Books with sexual content, and just as controversial as “Fifty Shades,” have long been — at least for a time — banned during their debuts. Gwinnett County carries about a million books in its system, including the steamy passages from Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” and Vladimir Nabokov’s provocative “Lolita.” These and other novels have gone on to reach best-seller lists quickly, and some are taught in public classrooms.
Mixson said if a book carried by the Hall system is challenged, the library staff must read the book, read its reviews and then discuss what to do with the book, which could include moving it to a different collection.
Library collections should be diverse, the American Library Association said, but should also reflect what people want to read. And decisions on what to buy shouldn’t be based on content alone: budgetary constraints, shelf space and bad reviews all come into play. A book’s provenance also can make a difference. Some libraries have policies against acquiring self-published books or books published by nontraditional means.
The “Fifty Shades” trilogy took a nontraditional route to its paperback form: the author self-published in e-reader form, and many people felt comfortable reading it on tablets because those devices kept the novel mostly private, unlike a hardcover book. It was also published by a small press in print-on-demand trade paperback editions.
Because of the books e-popularity, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, acquired the rights and published them April 3. So far, the books have sold 3 million copies in all formats.