Magazine article American Libraries

Justify My Purchase: To Buy Madonna's Sex or Not

Magazine article American Libraries

Justify My Purchase: To Buy Madonna's Sex or Not

Article excerpt

Sex is at the top of virtually every bestseller list. Warner Books' publicity machine has made it the most talked-about book of the year, with 150,000 copies sold upon release Oct. 21. So why would any library not purchase pop music idol Madonna's foray into photo erotica? The title says it all.

Controversy was almost guaranteed, from the moment Warner announced it was publishing 500,000 numbered copies bound in heavy metal and packaged in a peek-proof Mylar wrapper that warns "Adults Only," with no advance review copies.

Perhaps the most difficult task for librarians has been to treat the book the same as any other. Sex isn't just any other book, and librarians who've chosen to buy it have found themselves sought out for talk shows, quoted on the front page of local newspapers, and even threatened with eternal damnation.

Sex, claims Madonna in the book, is "a dream." For some a nightmare, toying with sado-masochism, bestiality, fetishism, and other kinkiness, both hetero- and homosexual.

"It's been a delightful amount of fun," Herschel V. Anderson, Mesa (Ariz.) Public Library director, told AL facetiously in mid-November. "I've been on TV and on the radio every day. TV crews showed up at my house at 10 A.M. one morning."

"We ordered it a month or so ago," he said, "knowing we'd have demand. After the book hit bookstores, a radio station polled local libraries to see if they were buying it. Mesa was the only one that had it on order. After that was announced, we got 200 to 250 calls. So did the mayor"--mostly protests.

The mayor asked Anderson to cancel the order, which he did. "He's the boss; these are public funds." But by the end of the week, the library had three gift copies.

Said Anderson, the book "is not porn to some who've seen the real thing. But for the average viewer it is. It puts librarians in a terrible position. But it's pure trash, not even well designed." The mayor has left the decision to the board, and "I will recommend that the board not accept the gift, and they will probably take my advice."

"My job's been threatened by our religious right, for even ordering the book in the first place," Anderson said, but "after making my opinion known, I'm now getting calls on the other side."

Carolyn Anthony, director of Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, called the book a "mainstream commodity" and said it "was ordered the same way any other book is ordered." Anthony cited numerous reviews and six pages of coverage in the Nov. 2 Newsweek.

"The book is a tease for librarians and censorship; it's testing the edge," said Anthony, advising, "You just quietly get it and include it in the collection." So far there has been one call from a patron who said it was "poor use of public money."

It's "a slick marketing scheme," Anthony observed, adding that she had written a memo to the board and staff advising how to defend the purchase if called upon to do so. Among the points: that Steven Meisel, whose photographs constitute the bulk of the book, is an established, well-respected fashion photographer.

"It may not be a great and lasting work, but it's something we should have," she concluded.

Rick Ashton, Denver Public Library director, agrees. DPL has four copies, all being circulated "without undue fanfare." Ashton called the book "flimsy" and says he doesn't think it will hold up through the 250 names on a waiting list to read it.

Denver Public has had letters, phone calls, and a few formal written requests to reconsider the purchase. Says Ashton, "We will take them seriously and do a formal evaluation."

The decision of Manchester (Conn.) Public Library Director Douglas McDonough to put the book on the shelves was overturned by the library board Nov. 2, after scores of residents registered their opposition by phone, letter, and petition.

Although the library had imposed a 17-and-older age restriction on checking the book out, the board said it needs a month to think about it. …

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