January 4, 2016

In The Headlines: New York Public Library's Erotica Collection

The New York Times published a story last week on the "triple-star" (i.e., "erotica") collection of the NY Public Library, which is being opened up to wider public consumption for the first time. 

According to the Times, the Library's collection contains a wide spectrum of erotic literature as well as other material classified as "Supervision Required" or considered morally objectionable. These included illustration, advertisement, pulp books, even playing cards featuring pornographic images.  One curator describes the Library's interests in arranging the collection as a need "to understand and document what the city of New York was like. That meant collecting the good and the bad".

The Times' story paints a fascinating picture of the material contained within the NY Public Library's collection. Certainly many of the works signify a social and historical culture modern-day erotic writers and readers would love to peruse. Much like the Las Vegas Erotic Heritage Museum, this collection highlights the art and literature of American sexuality still often repressed and denied by the mainstream. Even the language of this article demonstrates the still-negative reflection on erotic material: "the good and the bad" insinuating the collection falls into the latter. Elsewhere it is noted that a similar Paris collection classified its materials as "contrary to good morals". Throughout the Times' story, language used by the library curators seems to indicate an illicit and subversive responsibility.

Regardless, the existence and increased access to such a collection provides us with a much-needed look at our nation's sexual evolution and identity. What say you? How do such exhibits reflect on us as a culture? Should we continue to keep them under restriction in "triple-star" archives? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

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