That question came up again last week. It’s a pop favorite. “Do you get much pornography donated?”
My answer is always the same. “Not really. I think they think Uncle Blogsy will put this down on their permanent record.”
“What do you do with it when you get it?” generally comes next. And my answer to that is the same, too. “Not much.”
I don’t throw it away: you have to understand that at the outset. In a science fiction novel about literacy, which I have quoted before, there is a librarian who turns bright red when another character holds up a copy of a naughty magazine and asks why this has been preserved. She answers, “I am a librarian. I preserve the past for the future no matter what the present thinks of it.”
But I don’t take it home and hide it behind the books on my bookcase, either, French-fried gumdrop. If it’s legal, I try to sell it. (If it’s illegal, there’s not much I can do besides throw it away. My guideline on that is “Never sell anything if the fine is higher than what you’ll realize on the sale.”)
This is a library, so let’s discuss classification. There are, for Book Fair purposes, two kinds of porn: with pictures and without pictures. Without pictures, I have no compunction whatever about adding it to the Book Fair offerings. A naughty book which must actually be READ involves more effort than the passing twelve year-old is likely to go into. And if we attract highly literate twelve year-olds (as their parents are always claiming), well, that’s the risk they run by teaching the kids to read instead of letting them text and play Worlds of Warcraft all the livelong day.
If it’s porn with pictures, I study the pictures for a while. It’s a rough job, but the buck has to stop someplace. “Porn” is a value judgment, and there are customers who blush at a book on Jayne Mansfield and customers who would not blink at books that would make Madonna shudder. Where the line is drawn depends on what is going on in a majority of the illustrations and how much is showing while it happens. It’s absolutely a win-win proposition, because whichever way I decide I offend somebody. If I put it out, I may face a cry of “That’s smut!” and if I don’t, I may face a cry of “That was art!”
Of course, it’s easier to get away with offending people who DON’T see the pictures. That seems to some to be the safest alternative. On the other hand, my job is not simply to write entertaining blogs but to make money selling donated books. Throwing something away is not, believe it or else, the best way to make money with it. So if I honestly believe I should not include the book in Art or Photography or Humor, there’s always a quiet little section of Collectibles, where a book in a protective transparent wrapper can sit and wait for the right customer to come by.
I frequently go a little further, and set the book in one of my display stacks, somewhere in the middle, underneath other pop collectibles with garish covers. I can keep track during the sale because, as hinted, we get no more than two or three really dubious items in a year. Funny how those are the books which always wind up on top of the stack, and how they seem to be one table away from where they were the last time I looked. Once I chose one and stopped putting it back in its original place. By the end of the sale, it had actually moved completely around the Collectibles circle and was starting on a second circuit.
And it never did sell, either. This is the real reason I gave up pushing for a separate Erotica section. You guys would rather buy “Daphnis and Chloe”.