Ink-Stained Scribe

5 Reasons Libraries May Not Buy "50 Shades of Grey"

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Those who are curious about reading the Self Pub phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey may not want to shell out the $$$ for copies of their very own and turn instead to their local libraries. The haven of speed-readers, word gluts, and underfunded book-lovers, most people assume the library would jump on any opportunity to buy a book with so much buzz. Heloooooo, door-count!

They'd be 50 shades of WRONG.

Okay, well, maybe that's exaggerating. Libraries are run on a county-wide basis*, so the decisions are going to be different for every system. While some libraries may, in fact, purchase copies of 50 Shades of Grey, my librarian source provided me with the top five reasons many won't buy into the 50 Shades phenomenon, and they may not be for the reasons you think. Sure, most people are going to assume that librarians are the prudes who keep pasting diapers onto the naked butt and dangly bits of the little boy in the The Night Kitchen, but not so (seriously, that's certain members of the public stapling the pages together, y'all).

A patron walks purposefully up to the front desk, her eyes keen and sharp, her jaw set for a fight. "I want to read 50 Shades of Grey. I didn't realize the library was so prudish. Why aren't you buying it?"
The librarian smiles patiently, thinking of all the Zane novels she's had to read the titles of over the phone. ("You'd like Purple Panties 2? Yes, of course I can hold that for you, sir.") "No ma'am, I'm sorry. We won't be purchasing 50 Shades of Gray. We do have several other books filling that niche, which I'd be happy to direct you to..."
(And it's not because it's porn.)

For all its unexpected commercial success, 50 Shades is, in the words of Tee Morris, nearly "universally panned" online. But the library isn't in the business of buying books for their literary merit (or lack thereof). The library is there to provide the public with books.

Though it began as fanfiction for the Twilight series, there is no indication that, like Twilight, the book will have any staying power in the market. The prose is described as plodding, overly-detailed, and too long. Read React Review states "90% of the traditional romance arc has been completed, and then two more books drag out what, in a romance, would be the last two chapters". And that doesn't bode well for the continued success of books two and three.

 If the library system orders 50 copies of 50 Shades and the rage has died down by this time next year, they'll be stuck with a stack of books that society has lost interest in. Better to wait it out and establish its...endurance. (Yes. I went there.)

(See New York TimesDaily BeastRead React Review for some reviews that are relatively balanced. More Troll-in-the-dungeon reviews can be found at Amazon, & B&N.)

2. LOWFUNDSA (it's not an STD)
SURPRISE! We're in a recession! Like most government organizations, libraries are suffering from a severe lack of funds. Many libraries can't afford to have more than two copies of established bestselling books by established bestselling authors like Stephen King. Committing to 50 Shades of Grey before it's proved to be more than a flash in the pan isn't something a library in such dire straits can afford to do.

And it's not just 50 Shades of Grey. The library system is unable to justify purchasing books that aren't either by bestselling authors or filling a niche. And that's just how it is right now.

Want to help resolve that issue? Donate to your local library. :)

As readers of erotica already know, the niche for BDSM is by no means empty. The library system already has plenty of erotic fiction by authors with an established fan base, so buying 50 Shades would not fill a need in the library's collection, meaning that particular justification won't stand up long enough to perform. (Yes. I did.)

The library buys many of its books based on book reviews provided by Professional Review Sources such as Booklist, and due to 50 Shades of Grey's self-published nature, there are no reviews for the book as of yet. True, a publisher has picked up 50 Shades for release now, so there may eventually be a review available, but as of April 30th, 2012, Booklist has not posted a review.

In order to defend the purchase of a book, especially in times when the library is so strapped for cash (badum tsss), a review from such a professional (as in, the librarian profession) resource is extremely helpful. Without one, librarians may find they have to exercise restraints. I mean. Restraint. Singular.

Again, this rule may vary from library to library, but in many systems, if a library purchases the first book in a series, it is then obligated to purchase the rest. Committing to the whole m√©nage √† trois when the series might be a flash in the pan, the library system is underfunded, the niche is already filled, and it's not reviewed by professional sources is an exercise in poor planning, especially given the relatively lukewarm reception of the second and third books in the series.

*Edited to provide some additional linkage:
Florida Today's Article: On Brevard Library pulling 50 Shades from the shelves.
Heroes and Hearbreakers' Article: A response to Florida's Brevard Library pulling the book from the shelves.

And if you haven't seen Ellen's comedy skit about "reading the audiobook for 50 Shades", you must watch it now.

Does your local library have 50 Shades of Grey? Do you think libraries should purchase the book or not? Why? Have you read 50 Shades of Grey? What do you think? 

*Edit: Sometimes. They're sometimes state-run, or privately-owned, or business-owned, or city owned, or...well, you get the idea. Libraries aren't going to be governed by a single, agreed-upon set of rules.