Fashion & Beauty

The ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue: Lewd in the Library

Sports Illustrated

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

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, the swimsuit issue gets 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, my suburban Philadelphia library’s collection 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.)  

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.    

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

But 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 and then shelving incoming magazines. Before putting this one out on the floor, I decided to consult my supervisor. 

Carol and I perused the issue together.  “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.     

We were inclined to stash it behind the reference desk, along with the other stuff that patrons like to steal. The Thursday “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 said,  “Just shelve it. Don’t treat it differently from 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 where anyone, of any age, can view all the naked tushies they want, whenever they want, online. 

“Put a security tag on it, of course,” she 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 librarians don’t tend to let it all hang out.  

Which means that 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. 






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  • Tania September 10, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    I saw the sports illustrated swimsuit edition today at my local library and I still chocked. This can of magazine teaches men to look to women like sexual objects. How can we protect the kids from that stuff if they can go to an apparently innocent place and find those magazines?

  • ellensue spicer-jacobson March 7, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I never knew people stole magazines from the lib., but I guess the swimsuit issue is too tempting! es

  • Kelly March 4, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    I agree with Carol. Sport illustrated can put what they want in their magazines but they should at least market it for what it is (which isn’t sports).

  • Toni Myers March 4, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Thanks, Librarian Warren! Nothing makes us public service librarians prouder than our devotion to intellectual freedom. We draw the line at anything illegal, e.g. child pornography, though I had a patron argue he was an admirer of Sally Mann’s photography not porn…until I pulled his printout from the printer and he was outed.
    I just called 2 branches of the Seattle Public Library. Though they did not know if this is a systemwide policy, they keep it behind the desk so people have access. Otherwise, it’s out the door. Access to everything for everyone is another cornerstone.
    One of those not so simple questions. I loved reading your provocative piece. More on your library experiences please!

  • Roz Warren March 3, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Correction! Four well-informed New York Times readers(my friend Don, my brother-in-law, my ex husband and Maria, the head reference librarian at the library where I work have informed me that the Science section appears in Tuesday’s New York Times. Not Thursday’s New York Times. Oops.

  • Mark Lowe March 3, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    This is wonderful writing!

  • Tobysgirl March 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Pity the poor adolescent who is so desperate he has to steal SI from the library! And then remember what a woman’s European lover told her when she was self-conscious about her (no longer young) body: What? You think I am a boy who only makes love with his eyes?

  • Suzanne Fluhr March 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I agree with shelving it with the other SI’s, but maybe with a metal chain attached or a sticker, saying “The NSA will know if you steal this magazine and will tell your mother.”

  • Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen March 3, 2014 at 11:49 am

    My opinion, modesty adds mystery… the hottest sex scenes I have ever witnessed are those where both are fully clothed and aren’t allowed to touch! But then, what do I know? I was an academic librarian for 25 years! — Laura Lee

  • stepanie March 3, 2014 at 11:44 am

    This is hilarious, Roz, because it is SO true!!!!!

  • Walker Thornton March 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Gone-problem solved, right?

    I’m waiting for a younger generation to discover that sexy isn’t about how much skin you show…but in this case it’s all about marketing and money.

  • Carol Cassara March 3, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Yeah. I think it’s porn, too, and a great way for SI to make money. But this kind of porn, masquerading as something else, bothers me. Call a spade a spade!

  • Sharon Greenthal March 3, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Maybe one day modesty will be hot. All buttoned up and covered up will be the sexiest way to dress. Maybe.

    The science section??? Really?

  • Haralee March 3, 2014 at 9:27 am

    I have not seen this year’s yet, most likely gone from my library as well, but it seems the swimsuit name is misleading. It should be the ‘almost naked edition’. I bet you have lots of stories of what library patrons chose to steal for different reasons!

  • Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered) March 3, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I figured it would get snagged. That’s a shame that someone wouldn’t just go BUY it, but hey, now you don’t have to worry about it anymore, right?

    I think it’s good sense to opt to go with it, but to expect it will be taken is also a natural (and obviously correct) assumption.

    I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes of this post!