50 Shades of Controversy: How L-W Libraries Handle Contentious Books
The novel 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has people talking thank to its racy content. But that subject matter has also resulted in the book being banned. How have the Frankfort, Mokena and New Lenox libraries handled the controversy?
Even if you're not an avid reader, odds are pretty good you've heard something lately about the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. It's one of those rare books—like Twilight, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games—that piques curiosity and courts controversy. But unlike those other books, Fifty Shades, written by E.L. James, is squarely aimed at adults thanks to its erotic themes and graphic sexual content.
It's that subject matter that's saddled the novel with the term "mommy porn" and caused libraries in Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin to ban the book. But what about closer to home? Have the Lincoln-Way area libraries, which all carry the book, had any complaints? And what protocols do the libraries follow when it comes to pulling a book from their shelves?
Patch spoke to staffers at the Frankfort, Mokena and New Lenox public libraries to see if the book's buzz had reached the South Suburbs.
How Many Complaints Has 'Fifty Shades' Received?
L-W residents are definitely talking about the novel, and the reason some people might be upset over it is because they can't get their hands on a copy, said Kate Hall, New Lenox Public Library director.
"It's been very popular," said Michaelene Cervantes, Mokena Public Library's director of collection development. "It's gotten a lot of people to come and use our library. For us so far it's been a positive."
Fifty Shades is a hot commodity among the three libraries, with copies rarely staying on the shelves long. There are 900 holds for the book in the catalogue system that New Lenox and Mokena Public Library share with 68 other area libraries, and another 300 holds for the e-book version, Hall said. For Frankfort Public Library, which uses a different catalogue system, there are 1,200 holds, with 40 of those coming from village residents, said Pierre Gregoire, the library's director.
"A big part of our obligation to our community is to provide them what they want," Gregoire said.
As for complaints, the three libraries haven't received any.
How Do They Choose to Carry Controversial Books?
Research is the key to choosing any library materials, controversial or otherwise. When a book starts receiving attention nationally or patrons begin to request it, staffers gather what information they can to see if it's a book worth obtaining.
"I rely on a lot of selection tools," Cervantes said, adding she reads as many reviews as she can in library journals and publishing trade magazines. "I try to read the book, and if I can't, I get different opinions of people who have read the material."
In some cases, the New Lenox Library will is put together a committee of staff members and others to review the book, Hall said.
What If a Resident Objects to a Book at the Library?
The three libraries share a similar process when it comes to taking patrons' complaints over a book or other materials. Residents are required to fill out a reconsideration of materials form, explaining their objections. In Frankfort and New Lenox, that form goes to the board of trustees, which votes on whether the material should be removed. In Mokena, the form is brought to the library director, who makes the final decision.
"That's why we have trustees," Gregoire said. "The form goes to the board of trustees, and that's their role, to represent the views of the communities that they're in. It always come downs to community standards."
Gregoire, Hall and Cervantes couldn't recall the last time their libraries pulled a book from their shelves because of someone's objections.
Should Libraries Even Ban Books From Their Shelves?
Although it's within a library's right to keep certain materials out of its collection, Cervantes and Hall find such actions to be a bit disheartening, to say the least.
"I guess for me it scares me, and I find it a little sad," Cervantes said. "For public libraries, we're here for patrons. Not everyone can go out and purchase a book. That is a sad state of affairs (when a book is banned). It goes against what it is to be a library and a librarian. I think it's important for the library to represent its communities. It worries to me in a sense of when does it stop? If it starts with Fifty Shades, what's the next book to be taken off the shelf?"
Plus, the prospect of a single complaint dictating what every library patron can check out does not sit well with Hall.
"When one person lodges a complaint and something is removed from a shelf, that's one person, not the entire community," she said. "A great example is some libraries have banned classic books just because one person has made a complaint. People are always going to have issues with some books. ... It does chill me a little bit just because it's one person speaking out for the entire community."
Gregoire, however, sees it from a different perspective. As elected officials, board of trustees for libraries across the country represent the residents in their communities and will have their best interests in mind in these decisions.
"I trust that the people responsible are responding to their community," he said. "We're (public library districts) a taxing body. It's (residents') money."
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