Sports Illustrated causes boomer-aged librarians to flip out

If from time to time you show your old-fashioned baby boomer values, you don’t have to apologize to us! That’s our message to Roz Warren of Philadelphia, who wrote a piece that originally appeared on Womens Voices For Change about deciding whether the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is Lewd in the Library.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue just came out, and all over America boomer-aged librarians are flipping through its pages and rolling their eyes.

Roz Warren

Roz Warren

The swimsuit issue, which isn’t actually about swimwear at all, but is, instead, about young, beautifully shaped female bodies, is the single most stolen item in any public library. Shelve it in your magazine section like any other periodical? It’ll vanish. Like magic. Always. But hide it behind the Reference Desk and make your patrons sign it out?

Is that just good sense? Or is it censorship?

Every year since we boomers were kids, the swimsuit issue has gotten a bit more lascivious — the bikinis skimpier, the poses more provocative, the expressions on the models’ faces less about “Look at my strong, healthy body!“ and more about “Do me! Now! Right here on the beach!”

This year’s cover shows three stunning young woman, topless, their backs to the camera, smiling happily at the viewer over their shoulders, their gorgeous rumps more revealed that concealed by itty wisps of fabric.

Is this really what we want to display on our library’s magazine rack?

Of course, the collection of my suburban Philadelphia library contains all three books in the Shades of Grey trilogy, and numerous other examples of sexy contemporary “literature.” (And the sex scenes in the romances we circulate are hot hot hot.)

Please understand, we librarians tend to be fans of the First Amendment. I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU myself. I even subscribe to Playboy — for the articles and interviews, of course.


A typical American library.

What I’m saying is that I’m all for pornography.

But at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, which we baby boomers sometimes tend to do, there’s a time and a place for porn. I wasn’t sure this was the time or the place. I’m in charge of processing, then shelving incoming magazines. Before putting this one out on the floor, I decided to consult my supervisor.

We perused the issue together. The conversation sounded pretty much like this: “OMG!“ “Would you look at that?” “Yikes!” “Do you even SEE a swimsuit in this picture?“ “Oy!” “I hope her mother never sees that shot.”

This was pretty hot stuff.

Kim Cloutier, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

Kim Cloutier, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

We were inclined to stash the magazine behind the reference desk, along with the other stuff that patrons like to steal. The Tuesday “Science” section of the New York Times. The Morningstar weekly stock market updates.

But first, we brought the issue to the head of the library.

Our boss took a look, then she said, “Just shelve it. Don’t treat it differently than any other magazine. It’s no worse than what they can see every day on television.”

That woman sure loves the First Amendment.

And of course, the truth is that we’re living in an era when anyone, of any age, can view all the naked tushies they want, whenever they want, online.

“Put a security tag on it, of course,” the boss added. Although we all know how easy it is to remove those tags.

Before I shelved it, my co-workers passed it around. The consensus? We weren’t exactly shocked. But we weren’t exactly thrilled either.

We’re all middle-aged women. Many of us are grandmas. Still, in our heyday, we too were hot chicks. But you can be a hot chick and not want to share that aspect of yourself with the entire world. The kind of young woman who is drawn to library work is rarely the kind of young woman who ends up spilling out of her bikini on the cover of a magazine.

We don’t tend to let it all hang out.

Which means that like many baby boomers in general, we are, increasingly, at odds with our culture. Modesty? How retro is that! Dignity? Forget about it.

Still, we proudly stand behind the First Amendment. Perhaps to a fault. And while I wasn’t exactly elated about adding that little touch of smarm to our quiet reading room, I went ahead and shelved the swimsuit issue, just like any other magazine.

Within 24 hours, it was gone.

Read Roz Warren online.

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  1. Roz, thank you. You have raised an important issue that should at least be considered. Does honoring and protecting the First Amendment mean that decency and modesty have no place in our society any more? Is there no balance that can be struck that allows people to have their Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition without making those that would prefer not to see it have to? Should the covers of magazines be more “tame?” I happen to enjoy the SI Swimsuit Edition, the photo included in your piece makes a great cover, and in fact does just that-covers. This year’s “cover” was a bit much for this Boomer as well. Not that I did not enjoy it. Perhaps raising the issue as you have may serve to get the conversation started. Let’s insist on our First Amendment rights, but lets also at least try and see if we can balance those rights with dignity and modesty.

  2. Eric, thanks for your comment! I think my boss made the right call here, if only because shelving the issue made the problem moot within hours. Dignity and modesty, I fear, are very retro, and becoming more so every day.

  3. Brilliant! I’m glad the Boomer Café “recommendation engine” brought your wonderful article to my attention. Your humor and insights were immediately resonant, especially since I once served as a trustee for a small town library. At the time, we were wrestling with and over-thinking responses to naughty behavior on our internet terminals and a wise librarian suggested a simple and elegant solution: have all screens face toward the librarian station! Just knowing that the librarian might be watching (though generally wasn’t given the demands of the job) dropped the problem to a manageable trickle.

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