Not everyone has the time or the inclination to read all the books on the New York Times bestseller list. But even those who have both may not be able to — if they’re trying to find their favorite title at their local public library.
Fifty Shades of Grey, the first installment of an erotic, sado-masochistic trilogy by British author E.L. James (Erika Leonard, a wife and mother of two), contains sexually explicit descriptions of the relationship between the young, innocent heroine, Anastasia Steele, and Christian Grey, a 27-year-old rich businessman. The book, which has sold more than three million copies, is sitting atop every major bestseller list in the country. However, it is no longer sitting on the shelves in the Brevard County Public Library system.
Brevard County, located on the east coast of central Florida — the so-called Space Coast — includes the major cities of Melbourne, Palm Bay, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, and Titusville.
“It’s quite simple — it doesn’t meet our selection criteria,” said Cathy Schweinsberg, library services director, who added, “Nobody asked us to take it off the shelves. But we bought some copies before we realized what it was. We looked at it, because it’s been called ‘mommy porn’ and ‘soft porn.’ We don’t collect porn.”
But as the Palm Beach Post reports, copies of the sexually explicit Complete Kama Sutra and the erotic novels Fear of Flying and Lolita, as well as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Fanny Hill — books that were once banned in the United States — are available through branch libraries in the Brevard County Library system.
Schweinsberg’s explanation for why those other books are on library shelves but not Fifty Shades of Grey is that “those other books were written years ago and became classics because of the quality of the writing.” Fifty Shades of Grey “is not a classic.”
But even more perplexing about the library system’s removal of this particular title when it carries other erotic titles is that it comes two years after the county’s library system introduced a parental “opt-out” system that can prevent juveniles from checking out adult-oriented movies. A software alert tells librarians if a “flagged” child tries to check out any R‑rated movies.
“I think it’s worked well for the patrons who do care and are watchful of their children,” said Schweinsberg. “I can’t tell you how many have used it, but they have that option.”
Although it seems as though that system could easily be extended to adult-oriented books as well, keeping Fifty Shades of Grey out of the hands of juveniles was not the reason given for removing the book from library shelves. It was to keep the book out of the hands of adults.
The reason that some library patrons in Brevard County — and communities everywhere that have public libraries — are disturbed about the banning of certain books is that everyone in the county pays taxes to fund public libraries, while it is left to an individual or small group of individuals at the library to decide whether a particular book is too violent, racist, sexist, homophobic, obscene, bigoted, erotic, sadistic, blasphemous, or pornographic to be placed on library shelves.
Meanwhile, other library patrons are pleased when “questionable” material is removed from shelves or never placed there to begin with. Even Mark Twain’s novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) have been banned by several libraries over the years.
The solution is a simple one. Instead of banning books, ban the public library.
First of all, in this digital age of the Internet and Amazon’s Kindle, where even bookstores and traditional book publishing are on the decline, it makes no sense for taxpayers to continue to fund public libraries for the benefit of the few in the community who use them.
Second, modern public libraries have turned into video stores and Internet cafes. But if the market can provide movies at the theater, streaming over television, and in video stores, and if the market can provide Internet service in homes, WiFi in businesses, and Internet cafes, then the market can provide books as well.
But wait a minute. The market already does provide books. One can purchase books directly from the publisher, from Internet sites such as Amazon or Laissez-Faire Books, from book clubs such as the History Book Club or the Conservative Book Club, and in brick and mortar bookstores such as Barnes & Noble (which also has a web presence) or at a locally owned independent bookstore.
The objection, of course, is that books at the public library don’t have to be purchased; they can be freely borrowed and read. And therein lies the problem. Why is someone entitled to read books at the expense of someone else?
Third, and most importantly, it is not the purpose of government to provide public libraries. Libertarians consistently maintain that if we are to have a government, its role should be strictly limited to the protection of life, liberty, and property from the violence and fraud of others. Period. That is the only justifiable purpose of government.
Yet, governments all over the United States on every level generate electricity, collect garbage, run liquor stores, operate bus services, build sports venues, and provide public libraries.
But let me be perfectly clear, it is public libraries that should be banned, not libraries. In a free society, corporations, civic groups, religious organizations, political parties, and philanthropists are free to open libraries — catering to select groups or the general public — where books could be sold, rented, lent, or only read on the premises.
And as far as banning books is concerned, in a free society, every library would have the liberty of allowing or prohibiting from its shelves any book for any reason. Just as parents might ban certain books from their home, businesses might ban certain books from the workplace, and doctors’ offices might ban certain books from waiting rooms, so private libraries would do the same and be perfectly justified in doing so no matter what books they included or excluded.
The solution to the problem of “questionable” material in public libraries, as is usually the case, is getting government out of the picture and letting freedom and the free market reign.