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'sex' in library may be disruptive

by eric zorn


november 3, 1992

i'm not saying i'm not the kind of guy who is interested in looking through a book of photographs of a naked, semitalented female superstar in strange, exotic poses with strange, exotic people.  i am. 

i'm just saying that i don't want to pay $50-the price of madonna's well-hyped new book-for the opportunity.  sure, certain bookstores have removed the mylar wrapper on one copy of "sex" to allow for browsing, but then every passerby can see whose eyes are lingering where, and what kind of guy needs that kind of pressure?  not me.

"sex" is, in this regard, a perfect public library book.  check it out to check it out.  return it.  pretend you were never really interested in the first place.

many libraries, however, don't quite see "sex" that way.  to them, spending big bucks for a kinky picture book that is not only widely considered dull and mediocre, but is also likely to be vandalized or stolen by patrons, is not a wise allocation of public funds.

"i'm procrastinating on this one," said roger pearson, director of the nichols public library in naperville.  "i'm waiting to read more reviews and see what the public demand for it is going to be."

pearson said he attended a convention of librarians in la crosse, wis., at the end of last week, and the subject of madonna's book-should we or shouldn't we?-dominated informal conversations as no other book ever has at such gatherings.

librarians are accustomed to considering controversial books-the how-to suicide book "final exit" and salman rushdie's purportedly blasphemous "the satanic verses" are two recent examples-but madonna's book is unique in that it is a heavily publicized collection of sex pix of an entertainer who already had a huge following.

and redeeming social value aside, the spiral ring binding of "sex" makes it particularly vulnerable to those who wish to remove a page or two either to start a private photo collection or to engage in a little vigilante censorship.

a last problem for many libraries was that warner books did not allow review copies of "sex" to circulate in advance of the oct. 21 publication date.  this disrupted the conventional process, in which acquisition librarians rely heavily on advice from such publications as library journal when placing orders.

library journal has chosen not to review the book at all, according to executive editor francine fialkoff, but the magazine will address the "small explosions" it has created at libraries across the country in fialkoff's nov. 15th essay, " `sex' in the library."

fialkoff reports that the mayor of mesa, ariz., recently demanded the local library rescind its order for the book after a public outcry and that a conservative christian organization lobbied hard to keep the book out of a colorado springs library district.

"not many libraries have ordered it yet," fialkoff said.  "but if there is heavy demand, that may change."

the collections committee at the arlington heights memorial library, for example, recently voted against adding "sex," but spokeswoman debora meskauskas said, "we may re-evaluate the decision if the book appears on the new york times best-seller list."

that time will be next sunday, when the book debuts at no. 1, the same spot it occupied monday on the publisher's weekly list.

many suburban libraries report very few patron requests so far for the book, though tinley park public library administrator pam deiters said one reason may be that "it's the kind of thing people just wouldn't expect to find here."

but the schaumburg township district library, with its large and varied multimedia collection, has received numerous inquiries about "sex" and now has a copy on back order.

a spokeswoman said the chicago public library would like to order the book but has no money for new acquisitions.  the skokie public library has two copies on order.  director carolyn anthony said one will go into circulation, where she suspects it will be stolen rather quickly, and the other will become a reference text.  she said her staff will treat the book no differently from other adult materials and make no particular effort to keep the book out of the hands of children.

the oak lawn public library is not likely to face this problem.  director james casey said he has looked at "sex" and found it "largely pornographic in nature; not the kind of book that a public library would buy."

and then there's always the dewey decimal problem.  do they shelve it under 784.54, rock music?  306.77, human sexual practices?  616.69, human sexual disorders?  391.65, tattoos?

dewey created no special number for narcissistic sado-masochistic exhibitionism.  lack of foresight on his part, i'd say.

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copyright � 1992, chicago tribune

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