Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fifty shades of grey

No review or summary, since I haven't read it. I just have a couple of observations about the book as a cultural phenomenon.

The library where I work practices what's called patron-driven acquisition, which basically means that if you ask us to get a book we'll do our best to get it for you. Sometimes, if it's an older book or something really specialized (or if the wholesaler with the statewide library contract doesn't have it), we'll borrow it from another library just for you. But if we get multiple requests for the same title, we will almost certainly buy at least a couple of copies for the collection.

When we got the first five requests for Fifty Shades of Grey, including one from a (male) coworker in the IT department, they presented something of a dilemma; the book was just taking off in this country and was still only available as a self-published paperback from Australia. I had heard the title and had a vague idea it contained some questionable content, so I read up on it; that's when I learned the whole backstory of its origins as Twilight fanfic and subsequent self-published success.

I also ran across some reviews that cast aspersions on the actual writing. So I decided we'd give it a miss; not because it was BDSM erotica, because we've certainly got that in the collection already (hello, Anne Rice, and all of your pseudonyms!), but because it appeared to be not very well-written.  The librarian who handles requests sent out his usual boilerplate email to the patrons, including the IT guy, saying that we were unable to get the book at this time but would be happy to try interlibrary loan in six months, which is the usual time before most library allow new books to be loaned to other libraries.

(The IT guy promptly emailed back to ask why, so the librarian told him it was because Baker and Taylor didn't carry it and because it was porn. I'm told this led the IT guy to have a very interesting conversation with his wife about how it's not always a good thing to ask the library for the top ten books on Amazon without finding out what they're about!)

But we kept getting requests for it, and I soon realized I'd have to break down and buy the thing. By then, it had been picked up for reissue by Vintage, so we could finally order it from the wholesaler without issues. I didn't get enough copies at first; we've had to reorder it twice, and we ended up with 30 copies across the ten branches in our system.

And here's the part that amazes me: the hold list. There are 171 people waiting for those 30 copies. We also added it to our ebook catalog--the seven library systems in our consortium have added 30 digital copies as well, but there are 252 people on that hold list.  I find it oddly fascinating.  I have no interest in reading the book; not that there's anything wrong with erotica, it's just so not my thing.  But I keep checking every couple of days to watch the numbers go up.

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