Has a library copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” become tougher to track down than Harry Potter, “The Da Vinci Code” or the latest James Patterson novel?
If you have plans to check out possibly the hottest book in the U.S., prepare for a long wait. There are 490 people in line trying to pick up one of only 84 highly sought copies in the Central Mass. library database. Since most town libraries allow patrons to hold a new release up to three weeks, your name might not pop up till late June -- or July.
This suddenly popular work of erotica fiction, dubbed by the mass media as “mommy porn,” has created a scramble at area branches. But with a return policy that varies by town, a computer system that alters who is next in line, plus the unpredictable nature of when (if ever) a borrower will return their copy, has forced librarians to manage patron expectations.
“The demand mushroomed in April,” said Hilding Hedberg, director of the Grafton Public Library.
Many branches in Central Mass. are telling their patrons to wait about four to six weeks, others longer.
The problem is no one knows for sure how long the wait really is.
The guessing is based on a database called C/W Mars, which library staff and the public use to reserve a book, DVD, and more recently, e-books. The site aggregates 65 town libraries in the Central Mass. area so if a book title is not available at, say Leicester, but is in another town, then it is reserved on the web site and delivered to Leicester for pick up.
That’s where it gets tricky. Whether a lender will return their copy of “Fifty Shades” early, late, or on time is unknown. But each town sets their own policy on how long a hot title can be held. Most libraries like Grafton, Millbury, and Leicester have a three week limit with no renewal because of the demand. Westborough has a two week limit and Holden just one.
But wait -- the time till your copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” arrives gets even greyer. For example, if a Westborough copy of the book is returned, it will bypass the long line on CW/Mars and go to the next Westborough resident until all their residents on the list have read it. In other words, if you live in a town where your library owns no copies, then you wait... and wait... and wait.
Confused? Cracking the Da Vinci Code might be simpler than figuring this out.
Library directors try to anticipate demand for a book but admit it is an art form and the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon took most by surprise.
The book, first of a trilogy set, is as hot as “Twilight” once was. All three volumes in the series, the story of a young literature student who as a passionate -- and explicity -- romance with a handsome entrepreneur named Christian Grey -- are at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Meanwhile, Universal Pictures recently bought the rights for the silver screen.
Maureen Ambrosino, director of the Westborough branch, said she hopes the wait time will improve when all area libraries convert to a new system called Evergreen, which will, in theory, speed up the book wait time.
At nearby Tatnuck Booksellers, sales have been brisk. Manager Charles Napoleon said over 500 copies has been sold in his store though admits they have not promoted it because of the explicit content.
“We’re a community bookstore,” he said.
Marie Guillory, a librarian at the Millbury Public Library, said the demand in her branch is “up there” but less so for the other two volumes.
“I talked to a few people who read Fifty Shades of Grey,” she said. “But they were not impressed.”