This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 28, 1992

October 28, 1992 - Madonna's Sex

The subject is sex. How does it relate to public libraries? The second subject is also Sex, the latest offering of Madonna. How does it relate to this library?

Let's start with some background. Most people quite reasonably expect a public library to carry a broad variety of materials reflecting the many cross-currents of mainstream culture.

"Mainstream" doesn't mean materials that steer clear of sex. Many, many commonly available titles, from bestsellers to grocery store magazines to blockbuster videos, have quite a lot of sex in them.

You will find such items in our libraries, and I believe they belong there. These materials reflect the increasing cultural tolerance regarding human sexuality in all of its flavors. On the whole, that's probably good.

Then there are the kind of materials you probably would #not# expect public libraries to carry. I'm talking about books with titles like "The Nympho Slave Vixens of Venus," magazines like "Jugs," or videos like "Debby Does Dallas." We don't buy those, and I don't know any public library that does.

Somewhere in the middle are such magazines as #Playboy# (indexed by most periodical guides and carried by most larger libraries, although not us at present) and #Penthouse# (carried by very few libraries).

And then we have ... Madonna.

With the free, enthusiastic support of the media, she's hawking her latest venture, the aforementioned, Sex. The book comes in a heavy mylar wrapping, has a sticker on it reading "Warning! Adults only!" and at some Denver area bookstores, is sold only to people over 18 years old. The price is $49.95.

Some weeks ago, our library had decided not to purchase the book. It was expensive, had an awkward format, had received generally negative reviews, and nobody in our community had requested it.

Then came this article, on the front page of the Denver Post, October 22, 1992: "Check out Madonna at your library." The book is or will be available, according to the Post, from several metro area locations, especially Denver and Boulder.

I got 3 requests and 12 protests, all in the same morning. Most of the protests, incidentally, were an organized effort from the members of one church in the Parker area.

Now all this generated a lot of very stimulating discussion among our staff. After talking to a number of people around the community, I set the issue before our seven-member Collection Development Committee -- branch managers and some reference staff.

Our internal policy, set by me, calls for us to buy almost anything a patron requests, excepting only those items that are prohibitively expensive or whose subject matter is highly obscure or technical. Madonna's book was certainly pricey, but all of us admitted that we ourselves were curious to see it. Certainly, we have purchased expensive books before.

But did we have a need for this book? Judged on its own merits, we didn't think so. So then we went to the next question: how many public requests does it take to justify buying an expensive book of little apparent value to our collection?

Opinions were divided, although the best line of the day was from Cindy Murphy, our Business Manager: "If you have to be over 18, the district can't buy it. We're only two years old."

Finally, I decided I needed to take a look at it myself. So I drove up to Barnes and Noble's on Arapahoe Road. They had a copy available for perusal by the (adult) public. I had to stand at the counter to examine it. And after a lot of intense thinking, I came to the conclusion that Sex falls well on the other side of the line from Playboy. I think Madonna's book, by her conscious intent, fits the commonly-held definition of "pornography."

Why do I think so? The book is filled with literally hundreds of photographs of Madonna in highly charged sexual tableaus. There is some text -- maybe 10 pages out of some 120-plus -- but I would say it is more incidental than intrinsic. The high percentage of sexually explicit photographic content makes it quite unlike anything currently in our collection.

As indicated by the labeling and ID-check, the publisher clearly intended the book for an adult audience. Many parents don't feel comfortable setting out sexually-oriented photography where their children can stumble across it unsupervised. At none of our libraries do we have any distinct "adult" place to segregate such materials, and I didn't want to require ID cards at the circulation desk.

Finally, I still didn't like the format. The out-size aluminum covers were held together by a metal spiral binding. As I turned its pages, the covers came apart. Sex isn't designed as a general market library book; it's a specialty item, a novelty for collectors.

What Madonna does, and with whom, is okay with me, assuming they are all consenting adults. She has a perfect right to publish her book, booksellers have a perfect right to sell it, and people have a perfect right to read it. But erotic photographic albums don't strike me as an especially useful addition to a public library collection of our size. Other collections, other communities, might find it desirable, and that's okay with me, too.

But I don't think we should buy it.

So you tell me -- is this an act of censorship, or a thoughtful investment of limited funds? Have I imposed my prudery on a sophisticated public, or drawn a clear and defensible distinction for the purchase of library materials?

Your comments would be genuinely appreciated. Feel free to address them to me, this paper, or my Library Board.

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