WTFlorida? Brevard County Libraries Remove 19 Copies of 50 Shades from Circulation

Image: Censorship definition crossed out in dictionary page, Image courtesy of BigStock.comWTFery of the morning, as reported by Dianna Dilworth on GalleyCat: Brevard County Public Libraries in Florida have pulled their 19 copies of 50 Shades of Grey from the shelves.


HuffPo has a quote from Don Walker, a spokesman for the library, who said, “it's semi-porgnographic.” The HuffPo article indicated that several other libraries in Florida had refused to purchase copies, but Brevard bought 19, then took them out of circulation, sending notices to the 200 or so people on a waiting list.

Library services director Cathy Schweinsberg told Florida Today: 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.”

Brevard County Public Libraries don't collect porn. But since there's no established definition of what porn is, particularly for a library, I took a closer look at their collection to ascertain the items within their collection that I knew included sexually explicit depictions.

They have over 150 different Longarm novels, and a rather healthy collection of romances, including titles by Lora Leigh, Laurell K. Hamilton, Joey W. Hill, and Emma Holly.

So how does 50 Shades of Grey qualify as porn, while those works do not?

Your guess is as good as mine. 

There's a petition online featuring plenty of irritated folks telling the library not to censor what their patrons read, but if you'd like to write a letter to the Brevard County Library Director, Cathy Schweinsberg, her address is:

Cathy Schweinsberg
Library Services Director
Brevard County Public Library
308 Forrest Ave.
Cocoa, FL 32922

Or you can email her at There's additional contact information for Ms. Schweinsberg and for the library administration at their Contact page. 

I don't know if any reasoned argument can sway the decision, but if you do write, please keep the argument reasonable and not attackernating, as tempting as it may be to say, 'OH COME ON NOW.' This is the letter I've sent her:

Dear Ms. Schweinsberg:

I'm writing in regards to your decision to remove 50 Shades of Grey by EL James from your circulating collection on the grounds that it is “porn.”

I am not a resident of Florida, but many, many women I know are, and we are all avid readers of romance.  The danger in removing one book on the grounds that it is 'porn' is that you have not defined what it is that constitutes pornography.  Is it because this book features scenes that are labeled as BDSM? Your library carries Exit to Eden by Anne Rice, which also features BDSM, as well as several other works by writers of erotic romantic fiction that include bondage and domination scenes.

Is it that 50 Shades of Grey features explicit sexuality? Many other books do as well, and not just romance. For example, I examined your catalog and found over 160 different books in the Longarm series. Are you familiar at all with Longarm? It's a popular western series known for extremely graphic descriptions of sex and violence.  Here is a sampling of scenes from Longarm books:

“Longarm was able to enjoy Ramona longer, and wilder, as Carlota cuddled close to kiss Ramona passionately on the mouth and finger Longarm's ass as he long-donged her sister.”

– Longarm and the Deadly Dead Man
Located in your South Mainland Branch, currently checked out


“Longarm paid no attention to her giggling. He concentrated instead on feeling of sliding inside that sweet pussy and out again.”

– Longarm and the One-Armed Bandit
Located in your Titusville Branch, currently on shelf

I apologize for the frank and explicit nature of the excerpts included, but if you are going to remove a book based on it being “porn,” I wanted to make sure you were fully cognizant of the sexual content of several hundred other books in the Brevard County collection. If 50 Shades of Grey is porn, I'd posit that the Longarm series qualifies as well, though I remain unsure as to the specifics of your definitions.

Because 50 Shades of Grey is no more or less explicit than many other books in your collection, I conclude that pulling 50 Shades of Grey from circulation in your library is censorship. Worse, it is censorship based on an arbitrary and ill-fitting definition of pornography.

The fact that you carry books in your collection which are equally as sexually explicit means that you've removed 50 Shades of Grey on an inaccurate, ignorant, and ill-defined basis. If you're going to exclude all books with sexual content, you're going to remove many romances, works of literary fiction, and some mysteries and thrillers from your collection as well, to say nothing of Lady Chatterley's Lover and similar classics. If 50 Shades of Grey is pornography, then any book featuring sexual content may qualify. That might be more than half your circulating collection.

It should not matter what is in the books in your library. Neither censoring nor defining pornography are part of the job of a library, nor is it the responsibility of a library director to define what is and is not pornography, and to remove books that patrons have asked for. My understanding is that your job is to carry the books that your patrons are interested in reading, and to do so without judgment. I know there is a petition online regarding this matter already, with over 1500 signatures, my own among them.

Please reconsider your decision to remove 50 Shades of Grey from circulation. It was certainly not my favorite book that I've read, but I will defend the right of any person who wishes to read it, in your library, or anywhere else.

Thank you for your time,

Sarah Wendell

Thanks to BigStock for the censorship image. 

Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    CarrieS says:


  2. 2

    Oh, good grief.  That longarm thing skates by but not 50?  I haven’t even read the 50 books, and don’t plan to, but thuis is just stupid.  People reacting to public outcry.

    (O.o that never happens, does it…)

  3. 3
    Tracy Faul says:

    I suspect it’s been removed solely due to that detestable phrase, “Mommy Porn.” It’s like an invitation to censorship.

  4. 4

    Oh, by all means, let’s remove anything that’s labeled by popular culture as “porn”. Um…that leaves us a couple of non-ficiton books in circulation…and um, well maybe Ladie’s Home Journal.

    So freakin’ annoying.

    And I think your letter was right on the mark. If their patrons (who are paying with their damn taxes to have the library open) want the book, then they should circulate it. Stop worrying about censoring content based on a few freakish folks who are determined to legislate morality for every one else. Because that worked so well for prohibition, didn’t it?

  5. 5
    MelanieRMeadors says:

    I wasn’t really planning on reading the 50 shades books, but I certainly would not say that other people should not be able to read them.  Knowing how ignorant some people are, by pointing out other “pornographic” books, all they will do is take those books off the shelves as well.  They’ll end up with an empty library.  Let’s let people be big enough to decide FOR THEMSELVES what they should and should not read. 

  6. 6

    Since this WHOLE LongArm/50 shade of grey thing has come up… I keep thinking of this one LongArm cover that came out like 20 years ago (argh…showing my age) where he is NAKED – up… NAKED… running across the cover with only a well place thigh covering his throbbing member.  I’m trying to find the cover!

  7. 7
    Laurie Evans says:

    Sigh… I dislike when libraries do things like this.

  8. 8
    Julieinduvall says:

    Hey, Brevard County Public Library, it’s a slippery slope. If you’re removing one title because it’s “pornography”, you’re going to have to remove every other volume in your library that fits your library services director’s description. One of those titles is the Bible. Perhaps you might review Song of Solomon.

    Have fun with that!

  9. 9
    HollyY says:

    Great post and excellent letter. I signed the petition. I’m a librarian and censoring the collection in this way just sucks. It’s definitely NOT in keeping with intellectual freedom as advocated by ALA.

  10. 10
    Kim says:

    Well, a lot of public libraries didn’t even buy it because of its content.  I’m a librarian, and in my discussions with a librarian who is head of collection development at a major city library, said she would not buy it because it is “mommy porn.”  So, if it is censorship on the front end is it ok?

    However, the academic library where I work, rented it for our popular reading collection.

    This issue is interesting to me, because I select books in the fields of Philosophy and Religious Studies.  I always think about what I pick very carefully.  I try to make sure I select titles that will be used and fit my academic criteria, or make for a well-rounded collection.  I might buy a book that is more popular than academic, but I wouldn’t even consider revisionist material by Newt Gingrich.  Does that make me prejudiced against Newt Gingrich?  Or am I just committed to what I consider academic integrity and peer review.

    I hate censorship, but it happens all around us.  Usually books are not added to a collection only to be removed, but tons of books aren’t selected to begin with.  Is it censorship to not buy the book because it has been branded as “mommy porn.”  It may be in their collection development policy to not buy porn, but what happens to the porn that slips in?

    I should get back to work…I am putting-off writing meeting minutes. :(

  11. 11
    Lynnd says:

    and don’t forget the incest in Genesis with Lot and his daughters…

    Then there is Lolita and Fanny Hill.  Yup, slippery slope. 

  12. 12
    Ridley says:

    Maybe Brevard County readers will read a good book instead.

  13. 13
    Darlynne says:

    Sarah, your letter was perfect. No one at that library will be able to duck and cover with Longarm sliding in and out.

  14. 14
    CMM says:

    I too am a public librarian and am shocked that my colleagues in Florida would remove 50 Shades from their shelves.  It goes against all the tenets of librarianship.  If this subject matter does not interest you, simply do not check it out.  What I find even more disturbing is that people are not protesting The Hunger Games, with children killing children in a survival game but are protesting 50 Shades where adults are having consensual sex.  What is wrong with this picture?  Live and let live; choose your own subject matter which should ALL be available at your local public library.

  15. 15
    Guest says:

    It’s so sad when libraries make reflexive, fear-based decisions before any challenges have even been made! As a librarian, I understand the desire to avoid trouble—controversy distracts from the good work we do and we’re always fighting for funding as it is—but it’s our job to a) have standards and policies in place that determine what we purchase b) do our research and know what we’re buying and c) represent a wide variety of interests and viewpoints. This library clearly failed on all counts! Anyone who bothered to flip through 50 Shades would see that it’s no more explicit than the erotic romances most librarians already have on their shelves. I work in a library system where there’s a battle going on over erotica in our e-book collection—luckily, we have enough librarians who truly believe in the freedom to read!

  16. 16

    When I see crap like this I always feel like I ought to be apologizing for the State of Florida (something I seem to do all too often). I would like to give props to the Alachua County (Florida) Library District which has 50 Shades along with a lot of other books, and takes a general attitude of “Let the readers decide what they want to read”. I should add I’m on the board of the ACLD Foundation, because we believe supplemental funding will help keep our library strong when the barbarians are hammering at the gates.

  17. 17
    katherinelynn_04 says:

    Well put, Sarah! I haven’t felt a need to read 50 Shades, but I am all for allowing people to do so. It’s one thing to choose not to buy the book (libraries do have a limited budget), but to REMOVE them once purchased? That seems wasteful, and if I were a patron I would complain.

    And we shall not get into how stabby I get when I read/hear the phrase ‘mommy porn’. It does something to my head and I am filled with unspeakable rage.

    (on a completely separate point, I was watching Dateline on Friday and the story was about the Bashara case. If you’re not familiar with it, Bob Bashara’s wife was murdered in Detroit under suspicious circumstances and Bashara is a suspect. A sex dungeon was found for his BDSM fetish during the investigation. But the post-commercial blurbs kept saying things along the line of ‘a story straight out of ‘50 Shades…’ It drove me NUTS)

  18. 18

    This isn’t shocking for Brevard Co. They get complains by parents for allowing kids to check out any book they want. They had to go as far as to have release forms for parents, allowing kids to check out R rated movies or books of racy topics. I’m sure it’s because this is so popular (whereas the romance books mentioned tend to be for patrons of a certain age.) It’s not right, but it happens.

  19. 19
    azteclady1 says:

    I brought this up last week over at Karen’s—though I didn’t go as far as checking out the library’s collection, I’m not surprised that there are other titles with more…questionable content there (Longarm, really?)

    From where I sit, the problem there is with a) the popularity of the book and b) the attendant outcry over “mommy porn.”

    As long as there was no fanfare or public attention called to those erotic romances, all was well—but dog forbid anyone thinks that public money is spent on “mommy porn.”

  20. 20
    Bnbsrose says:

    The difference? Nobody is on the news is taking about M/M/F scenes in Emma Holly’s books, or buttfucking in Lora Leigh’s, or BDSM in Anne Rice’s. I mean it’s not like those catalogs the collection buyers get tell them anything at all about the contents of the book, right? Of course, now that you’ve pointed out, there’ll be some big bonfires in old Brevard County tonight. Except for the 160 various Longarm books. They’re written for men, so it’s O.K.  It’s only us little wimmen who need to be protected from the nasty sex.
    Oh, and in the current economy, when library budgets, and libraries themselves, are getting cut right and left, how do you justify the expense of buying NINETEEN copies of a book and then taking them out of circulation?

  21. 21
    KenHoughton says:

    “They have over 150 different Longarm novels, and a rather healthy collection of romances, including titles by Lora Leigh, Laurell K. Hamilton, Joey W. Hill, and Emma Holly.

    So how does 50 Shades of Grey qualify as porn, while those works do not?”

    The others can write their way out of a paper bag?

  22. 22

    Thank you for your well-articulated letter! The fact that anyone would censor a book based on a poorly-coined phrase (coined by the media, no less), enrages me. I haven’t read 50 Shades, and I’m not sure I ever will, given the two excerpts I read (the “Tampon Scene” being one. *shudder*), but I *do* read books featuring BDSM and non-BDSM erotica. And I enjoy them, “mommy porn” or not. (I cringed typing that just now. I *hate* that phrase, but whatever).

    This reminds me of when our libraries were urged to remove Harry Potter on the basis that it “encouraged witchcraft,” which, of course, meant Satan worship. Grrrr.

  23. 23
    Susan says:

    I have no desire to read 50 Shades—in fact, I don’t think I’d read it if you paid me by the word—but this is ridiculous.  Libraries all across the country are hurting and they won’t take the opportunity to get people thru the doors by stocking a top-selling novel?  The patronizing, belittling moniker of “mommy porn” was definitely the killer here, while boatloads of other stuff with mature content (sex and violence) made it to the shelves.

    Oh, and let’s not try to justify excluding the book based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the writing. If that’s going to be the yardstick, darn few books—including those of other popular, bestselling authors—wouldn’t make the cut.  Sure, let libraries debate the literary merit of all their acquisitions and then see how empty those buildings would become.

  24. 24
    Cris says:

    If they’re going to remove it, they should do it because it’s shite (I read all 3 so a friend could have someone to discuss them with and will, sadly, never get those brain cells back), not because it’s “porn”. It’s not… in fact, it’s not even that hot or explicit. Also, the term “mommy porn” is completely idiotic, and whoever coined it should be shot in the arse.

    But the point is, they shouldn’t be censoring anything—either on the front end (i.e. deciding not to buy it because it’s dubbed “porn”) or retroactively because a bunch of staunch conservatives got their knickers in a wad. You Americans have such baffling & puritanical attitudes toward sex… Europe hasn’t collapsed due to debauchery spawned by lax attitudes toward sex! (The economy is a whole other story, however, :P)

    I’m so glad I’m presently in a state whose libraries have both the 50 Shades trilogy, and a healthy romance & erotica collection (albeit, apparently, no Longarm that shows up in the catalogue). Very well-articulated letter.

  25. 25
    Beth A says:

    Speaking as a librarian, this really irks me. The only thing I hated more than having to by 30-some-odd copies of the 50 Shades books (which were awful reads btw) is having every third romance reader compare Christian to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Just the same, I would never tell patrons what they can or can’t have access to. Never!

  26. 26

    In the current age of tight budgets, I call bullshit on them not knowing what a book they ordered 19 copies of was about before they placed the order.

  27. 27
    Susan says:

    “You Americans have such baffling & puritanical attitudes toward sex… “

    Love the broad brush here.

  28. 28
    Unimaginative says:

    Damn it!  The absolute worst thing about this is that we’re now having to defend a book that many of us hate, and it’s getting even more freaking media attention, and will probably boost more sales.  Why, if they have to stir up a controversy, can’t they do it for an underrated book that needs more attention?  Grrrrrrrrrrr.

  29. 29
    Amber says:

    The letter was perfect. And it brought the phrase “as he longdonged her sister” into my life, over which I can’t stop giggling.

  30. 30
    asianromance says:

    As a librarian, my coworkers and I tend to add books to the acquisitions list after reading reviews about them or receiving recommendations from our community. These librarians either 1.  lazed on the job and ordered something they just heard was popular without reading reviews about it or 2. received numerous requests for it and so, they bought 19 copies of it.  However, a few naysayers with sticks up their butt are complaining very loudly about the “pornographic” content. 

    I bet this censorship wouldn’t have happened if the book was written by a man…

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top