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Sex and the Library: Current Issues in Information Access


First off, not sex IN the library. That will get you arrested, or, at the very least, asked to leave. But if you are looking for sexuality resources in the library… well, that’s not as easy to explain. As your friendly (and kinky) Unlaced Librarian, I will attempt with this post to clear up some misconceptions and answer some questions regarding sexuality resources in the library.

Books

The biggest issues I faced working at a small library was a lack of (secular) books on sexuality and people wanting to keep spicy books (think Fifty Shades) off the shelves.

First off, a public library does not discriminate based on specific content. There are no policies saying books cannot have certain four letter words or graphic novels cannot depict nudity or a main character cannot be bisexual. So when a patron complains about a book having dirty words in it, well, the library didn’t do anything wrong in having the book in the collection, though others might think otherwise.

When a patron wants to challenge a book for removal, the library will present the procedure for doing so, usually a written complaint that goes to the director and then to the library board. The material will be evaluated for things like community standards and what the work as a whole contributes to the collection, including how many times it has been checked out. The patron is then given a written response outlining why the material will or will not be removed from the collection. Most often the book is not removed. I worked at a small library in a conservative town for almost three years and I never saw a book removed from the shelves.

Now, this does not mean that a library will buy every single title that is published. A library has to have good collection development in that it provides materials that best serve the community that uses it. Libraries operate on a budget for materials and some of those budgets are tight. For example, my library would rather spend the money on an Amish romance that will circulate often rather than a book of BDSM erotica that might only go out a handful of times. And that is perfectly reasonable.

That being said, if there are books you think should be in the collection but are not, you can request titles. Each library has a different policy, so ask if you are interested. Usually, the book must be recently published and will appeal to a wider audience. (For example, The Ultimate Guide to Kink will be more likely to be brought into a public library collection than A Study of Mating Patterns in Non-Monogamous Synchronized Swimmers from Nordic Countries. You know, just an example.)  It’s not a guarantee the titles will be purchased for the collection, but I know many libraries will make an effort to acquire titles that are requested if they round out the collection.

Sometimes, when someone wants to ban a book, the option is given for them to request materials they think should also be included in the collection to balance out viewpoints instead of just banning the view they don’t like. These titles are then evaluated for collection development, but as I said before, libraries are often more than willing to round out a collection to better serve patrons and get circulation stats up.

If the library does not have the budget to purchase the requested titles, you might be able to donate books. Now, keep in mind, most libraries take donations for used book sales and fundraiser sales so don’t just toss some books in the drop box or they will likely end up on a sale. If you want your donation to be added to the collection, you must talk to a librarian about how the library handles such donations. Each library is different. The book will be evaluated and might not be added to the collection. You may ask the titles be given back to you if the library decides not to add them. I recently donated two sexuality books to my local library that were accepted to the collection. They were brand new, published within the year, in excellent condition, and on a broad topic (both were general sexuality guides).

If you can’t find the book you are looking for, you can probably request it through inter-library loan. It gets its own category, next:

Interlibrary loan

If your local library does not have the book you are looking for, you may be able to request it through interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan is a service where you can check out books from other libraries through your own library. Say you want to check out The Feminist Porn book but your library doesn’t own a copy. If interlibrary loan is offered through your library you can give the title, author, and copyright date to the library. A librarian will then find a library that owns the book (there’s a whole system set up for searching and lending, but for now let’s just say it’s quite magical) and request it be sent over to their library. The lending library will pop the book in the mail and send it off. When your library receives it, they enter some information in their system and check the book out to you. You come and pick it up. In my library, the patron had to pay the postage fee which was usually between two to four dollars and the checkout period was 4 weeks. Each library is different, so ask for the specifics before requesting a book through interlibrary loan. If you request four huge, 1,000 page hardcovers, the shipping costs will probably be hefty, albeit cheaper than buying the books yourself. This can be a more cost-effective way of reading books your library doesn’t own rather than buying them.

Next, let’s talk about some issues surrounding internet access in public libraries.

Internet

The central controversy around public computers and internet access in libraries in the matter of filtering. Should public computers be filtered so people cannot access pornographic images or violent content? The answer to that question has largely been, no, internet communications should not be restricted. You can read more from the American Library Association here.

However that doesn’t stop people from being utterly shocked that you can pull up porn sites on library computers.  Without getting into the debate too deeply, filtering porn sites would mean that many other sites (political sites, health sites, art sites, to name a few) won’t make it through the filter and this intrudes on intellectual freedom and information access. There’s also evidence that filtering computers does more harm in the long run, you can read about it by clicking here.

My library provided privacy hoods and lowered the computer screens so people using computers could not see what their neighbors were accessing. The library also offered computers in the children’s section that did not access the internet – just the card catalog and children’s reading games.

Some people ask about CIPA – the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This means that libraries using a specific government funding to pay for their internet services must filter their computers. My library, and many others, do not receive this funding so are not required to filter computers. Even so, if you are an adult searching on a filtered computer, you may ask that the filter be lifted, and the library must comply if you are not a minor. You may read more about CIPA here.

Most libraries work hard to keep patron privacy and information access a top priority. Which is a relief since so many people access information regarding sexuality on the internet every day. Speaking of, here’s a link to Kinkly.com’s directory of sex bloggers!

Intellectual Freedom

Much of what I talk about in this post stems from the concept of Intellectual Freedom.

A great book on the topic is The New Inquisition, Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges by James LaRue. My review of the book can be found here.

You might like to check out the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement.

You might also check out Banned Books Week which is celebrated in September.
Ultimately, libraries are wonderful, family safe places where anyone can come to learn, read, research, and check out materials that enhance their lives. This includes information on sexuality, relationships, and health. I hope some of the information in this post is helpful and assists in your own explorations and improves your relationship with the local library. Happy reading!

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