By JULIE BOSMAN
It did not escape the notice of Tim Cole, the collections manager for the Greensboro Public Library in North Carolina, that “Fifty Shades of Grey” was “of mixed literary merit,” as he put it with a heavy helping of Southern politeness.
He ordered 21 copies anyway.
His customers had spoken, Mr. Cole said, and like other library officials across the country, he had gotten the message: Readers wanted the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy. In recent weeks they have besieged libraries with requests for the books, signaling a new wave of popularity for these erotic novels, which have become the best-selling titles in the nation this spring.
In some cases demand has been so great that it has forced exasperated library officials to dust off their policies — if they have them — on erotica.
In April the trilogy, which includes the titles “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” was issued in paperback by Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, sending sales through the roof when the publisher printed and distributed the books widely for the first time.
That enthusiasm has carried over to libraries. At many, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by the previously unknown British author E. L. James, is the most popular book in circulation, with more holds than anyone can remember on a single title (2,121 and counting last Friday at the Hennepin County Public Library, which includes Minneapolis, up from 942 on April 9).
But despite misgivings about the subject matter — the books tell the tale of a dominant-submissive affair between a manipulative millionaire and a naïve younger woman — library officials feel that they need to make it available.
“This is the ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ of 2012,” Mr. Cole said. “Demand is a big issue with us, because we want to be able to provide popular best-selling material to our patrons.