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Citing patrons’ right to read, local libraries offer ‘Fifty’ trilogy


Unlike a smattering of libraries in other states, Massachusetts libraries seem to have no objection to stocking the much talked-about “Fifty Shades” trilogy, but enthusiasm for the novels among library staff is far from unanimous.

At public libraries in communities south of Boston, some employees told the Globe they reviewed their purchase policies before buying the erotic trilogy’s first book, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but decided to stock it. Others never hesitated. They buy what patrons want to read, provided it does not cross the line into pornography, they said.

If a book becomes a sensation, some libraries feel all the more obligated to help patrons understand what’s going on in the world around them.


“People are excited because it’s a phenomenon right now,” said Carol Jankowski, director of the Duxbury Free Library. She said the library pays attention to current issues and titles in order to fulfill the community’s appetite for popular culture and social trends.

“We’re also champions of the right to read, so we really would never want to apply censorship to something that people are clamoring for,” she said.

And clamoring they are.

Carver Public Library director Carole Julius said the SAILS Library Network had 1,154 patrons waiting for a copy of the first book across its 73 libraries and branches. Ellen Kane, acquisitions associate at the Hull Public Library, said the smaller Old Colony Library Network had 785 holds, not including holds on e-books or audio books.

The three books by E. L. James — in which a female literature student and a youthful entrepreneur develop a sexual relationship on his terms, which include submission and dominance — topped one of the two “Local Bestsellers” lists for fiction in the Boston Sunday Globe on May 27.

Nationally, sales topped 10 million in six weeks, and the books have been reprinted on a weekly basis, according to a press release from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, whose Vintage Books imprint published the trilogy.


“The sales velocity for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is unprecedented, with reader demand still growing,” said Anthony Chirico, president of Knopf Doubleday, in the release.

Not all of the attention has been positive. Kane said mention of the trilogy in the “Social Q’s” advice column in The New York Times style section caught her eye. An anonymous reader asked how to handle a sensitive social relationship with a woman who was excited about the books. “As a feminist, I find the books’ focus on submissive women in sadomasochistic situations offensive,” the reader said. Another Times article said the first book had been described — though by whom was unclear — as “Mommy porn.”

Nonetheless, the Hull library ordered the books, said Kane, who called the first one “wildly popular” and said about a dozen patrons asked for it before she placed the order. Although some readers felt the book objectified women and the male character was abusive, she said, the library had no reason to censor it.

“We are keepers of the flame of liberty at the library,” she said.

Library employees emphasized that they do not buy pornography and do not believe the trilogy fits that definition.

At the public library in Brockton, director Elizabeth Wolfe said libraries have a long history of carrying books that have been banned or challenged by others. Readers have “a range of taste,” she said, and though “Fifty Shades” may not appeal to everyone, readers should have access to it.


“There have been books throughout time that have been considered on the edge of what’s acceptable for the society at that time,” she said.

Julius, the director in Carver, agreed. “It irks me that libraries aren’t buying it; we’re proud,” she said.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that officials in Brevard County, Fla., had reversed the decision they made earlier this month to pull “Fifty Shades of Grey” from library shelves. Various news outlets have reported bans in Georgia and Wisconsin.

While libraries in Massachusetts support access to the book, several employees said it was not particularly well written and did not interest them.

“It’s safe, but cliched and predictable, fantasy,” said Kane. “I think it feels safe for a lot of women to read because of all the hype.”

In Duxbury, Jankowski said the book “may not have lasting literary value.”

The Rockland Memorial Library reexamined its policy on collection development before buying two copies of each book, according to Robin Hall, reference librarian. She has yet to hear reaction from patrons.

Employees at a number of libraries pointed out that their collections already include other erotic fiction.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.