The day that I saw the full display of erotic fiction in Books-a-Million along with “accessories” was the day I knew that I would have to deal with this genre as a librarian. Erotic fiction has been in libraries for a long time. [simpleazon-link asin=”1619491486″ locale=”us”]Lady Chatterley’s Lover[/simpleazon-link] and [simpleazon-link asin=”0140449124″ locale=”us”]Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics)[/simpleazon-link] come to mind. Libraries also are not strangers to defending “inappropriate,” “violent,” or “sexual” material. As a librarian for 12 years, I am and always will be a firm believer in the Freedom to Read.
Nevertheless, as a conservative Christian in a largely liberal career field, I have struggled from the beginning to find a balance between my personal values, my strong belief that no one has the right to tell another person what they can or cannot read, and what material I actually find on the shelves. Still, if you think censorship does not occur in public libraries, you are dead wrong. Libraries have only so much money to spend on books, so by necessity they must pick and choose what material to put on the shelves. An unintended result is censorship. To be fair, librarians try to be equal opportunity offenders. If there isn’t at least one book in the library that offends you, then we haven’t done our jobs. By the same token, there should be material in the library that appeals to you. In other words, a good library collection should reflect the diversity of the community that supports it.
And then came E.L. James with Fifty Shades of Grey, and suddenly erotica was pushed out of the closet into mainstream America. We have 90-year-old women coming up to the desk asking for “that Shades of Grey” book. By the way, our library system elected not to purchase it. With our limited budget, we decided other material should take precedent. That is not to say that we don’t have erotic material in the library. We do. In fact, we own many titles by several of the authors mentioned in this cover piece from Library Journal: Erotica: Full-Frontal Shelving | Genre Spotlight (The article which prompted me to compose this post).
My concern is that people who like to read erotic fiction have, in the past, quietly come in to the library, looked in the catalog, chosen their book(s), and checked them out. I do not judge their reading choices. I never have. But Library Journal is now suggesting that I be able to advise readers on which books or authors to read in the erotic fiction genre. The only way I can really do that is to read it. I politely, but firmly refuse. I am uncomfortable with erotica. If you want to read it, go ahead. Like I said, no judgement here. But, please don’t expect me to recommend to you the best erotic titles or authors. Don’t ask me to differentiate between romance, hot romance, and erotica. REALLY?!
I read across genres and age levels precisely so that I can be a well-informed, well-read librarian. This often means I read books of which other Christians would not approve. But, I cite the Freedom to Read statement as well as my responsibility as a librarian who is often asked for book recommendations. How can I discuss or recommend that which I have not read? How can I warn a parent that while [simpleazon-link asin=”0060540958″ locale=”us”]Julie of the Wolves[/simpleazon-link] is fantastic literature, it has an implied rape scene and may not be appropriate for a twelve-year-old, if I have not read it? How can I form my own opinion about Harry Potter if I dismiss it because of witches and refuse to read it? As it turned out, I loved Harry Potter and saw much of it as a Christian allegory. After all, a story is only halfway composed by the writer. The rest is composed by the reader.
So what to do with erotica? I honestly don’t know. I know that I personally cannot bring myself to read it in order to make recommendations to patrons. I don’t care if we put it in the library, as long as it meets collection development standards. But, I’m not prepared to study it, analyze it, or review it. I want to be a good librarian, but the Freedom to Read is mine as well. Therefore, if a patron asks me to recommend a good book of erotica, I’ll be directing them to the catalog where they will be on their own. However, I’ll pass no judgement and would fight anyone who challenged the books for being on the shelves. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot read, and I’ll show you the same courtesy. That is what the Freedom to Read is all about.
— The Loopy Librarian (@Loopy_Librarian) November 2, 2015