From an editorial published in Mondays Washington Post:
Fifty Shades of Grey, the quasi-pornographic bestseller that is doing for sado-masochism and leather crops what Harry Potter did for British boarding schools and broomsticks, is a publishing sensation. Its also atrociously written proof positive that execrable prose is no bar to dominating the bestsellers list.
The book concerns the no-holds-barred sexual affair between a billionaire Adonis with a taste for bondage and beatings and the ingenue who loves him and takes pleasure in accommodating his tastes. The book is the subject of lively debate about whether it represents a milestone in the debasement of Western culture; harmless low-brow entertainment; or a shift in post-feminist fantasies.
Regardless, millions of people, especially women, want to read it. So should libraries stock it? Most, citing a tsunami of demand, have decided the answer is yes. A few, including the library system in Harford County, Md., have declined. Its clear that we dont buy pornography for the library, said the director, Mary Hastler.
Her decision has brought her a good deal of abuse, which is unfortunate. Like some other librarians, she was doing her best to adhere to established criteria for upholding community standards.
The trouble is that community standards and good luck defining them are no longer set by librarians or library boards any more than theyre set by schools and school boards. In a wired world, theyre set by communities themselves. Hastlers view of what community standards should be isnt necessarily illegitimate. But the community itself happens to disagree, and it pays the bills.
Public libraries once played the role of gatekeeper, but the gate is gone. Libraries exist to serve the public. Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in a paperback trilogy, has sold more than 10 million copies, and individual local library systems across the country have reported thousands of requests for it. The public has spoken; libraries probably ought to listen.