June 11, 2012 To: Members of the Library Board Harford County Public Library 1221-A Brass Mill Road, Belcamp

, MD 21017

Dear Harford County Library Board Members,

As organizations concerned about the freedom to read and write, we are deeply troubled by the ban on E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey in Harford County Public Libraries, despite many requests for the book by library patrons. Our concerns are heightened by the library’s effort to justify the exclusion as part of a categorical ban on “porn.” A policy that excludes an entire category of works that are protected by the First Amendment is a censorship policy, impermissible in a public library. The government’s imposition of barriers on adult access to legal content in an effort to impose upon the public certain views about what kind of literature is “appropriate” or “acceptable” raises significant First Amendment and intellectual freedom issues. Our society is based on the premise that we are each free to hold our own beliefs, and that the government has no business telling us what to read, say or think. Nearly 70 years ago, the United States Supreme Court established the principle that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” There is no justification for the wholesale exclusion of books with sexually explicit content, whether called “erotica” or “pornography.” Indeed, a library’s collection would be incomplete without such books as Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure (“Fanny Hill”), Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Tropic of Cancer. These and many other books were deemed objectionable, even obscene, when first published. The Harford County Public Library appropriately contains both classic and contemporary erotica which could easily be called “porn" (e.g., Bedding Down: A Collection of Winter Erotica, The Serpent’s Kiss, and books by Zane), a fact that makes the decision to exclude Fifty

Shades of Grey arbitrary and irrational, especially given the high public demand. The act of rejecting a work specifically for its sexual content sends an unmistakable message of condemnation that is moralistic in tone totally inappropriate in a public institution dedicated to serving the needs and interests of all members of the community. Whatever one's personal view of the book, Fifty Shades of Grey is part of mainstream culture. Published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House, the book has now sold more than ten million copies and is at the top of all major best seller lists. Simply calling the action “selection” does not shield it from criticism. The line between censorship and selection is not so malleable:
Selection seeks to protect the right of the reader to read; censorship seeks to protect—not the right—but the reader himself from the fancied effects of his reading. The selector has faith in the intelligence of the reader; the censor has faith only in his own.

Professor Lester Asheim, “Not Censorship but Selection” http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/basics/notcensorship Libraries all over the country, including Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Howard County and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Maryland, have purchased the book and have long waiting lists of patrons eager to borrow the book.1 The book clearly fits within your Selection Criteria as a book of “contemporary significance” that “will create public demand.” Just as it would be unthinkable for a library to exclude a murder mystery because it depicts criminal activity, it is equally unacceptable for a library to exclude this book because of its depiction of sexual activity. The fact that the book is already available state-wide in e-book format demonstrates that the state finds it worthy of circulation. You are effectively restricting access only for those patrons who cannot afford e-readers, computers or other e-book devices. We strongly urge the Harford County Library to reconsider its decision to exclude Fifty Shades of Grey and to affirm its mission of serving the community by providing reading choices of all kinds, without interfering with the right of patrons to make their own choices or passing judgment on authors, books or readers.


See, e.g., “Controversial 'Fifty Shades of Grey' in circulation, and in high demand, in Carroll County libraries” available online at http://www.baltimoresun.com/explore/carroll/news/community/ph-ce-50-shades-of-grey-060320120603,0,7784457.story


Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 (212) 807-6222 ext. 101 Bertin@ncac.org

Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs PEN American Center 588 Broadway New York, NY 10012 (212) 334-1660 ext. 105 Lsiems@pen.org

Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers 455 Massachusetts Avenue NW Suite 700 Washington, DC 20001 (202) 220-4551 jplatt@publishers.org

Alexandra Owens Executive Director American Society of Journalists and Authors 1501 Broadway, Suite 403, New York, NY 10036 (212) 997-0947 director@asja.org

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 (212) 587-4025 ext. 4 chris@abffe.org

Florrie Kichler President The Independent Book Publishers Association 1020 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Suite 204 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 (310) 546-1818 florrie@ibpa.org

CC: Mary Hastler, Library Director Daria Parry, Associate Library Director Stephen Kirch, Associate Library Director