Who checked out 'Sex' from Library of Congress?

ROGER SIMON

December 02, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- I am at the Library of Congress to see which senators and representatives have checked out Madonna's new TC erotic best seller: "Sex."

I know the Library of Congress recently purchased the book, because a federal employee, whom I shall call Elsie, tipped me to this a few days ago.

"The library got a call from Capitol Hill requesting the purchase of the book, and we did," Elsie said.

But since the Library of Congress eventually gets a copy of every copyrighted book anyway, why did it have to go out and buy Madonna's book specially?

"I guess somebody on Capitol Hill did not want to wait," Elsie said.

Congressional salaries will rise to $133,644 in January and so you might think a member of congress could just go out and buy the book.

But why bother when you can get the taxpayers to do it for you?

Now I wanted the list of those tireless public servants who have been drooling over Madonna's dirty book.

Which I was politely refused.

"All requests for books are confidential," Elsie told me. "You cannot get a copy of the list."

But wait, I said. I remember a scene from "All The President's Men" in which Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein rush over to the Library of Congress to find out if members of the White House staff had been checking out material on Ted Kennedy.

"That is correct," Elsie said. "And that scene was actually filmed in the library. But Woodward and Bernstein never should have been allowed to look at those request slips."

And when I went back to check Woodward and Bernstein's book, I found out that they had been refused access.

But they "eventually found a more cooperative clerk and spent the afternoon in the reading room sorting through thousands of slips of paper . . . ."

But while Elsie was cooperative enough to tell me that the library had purchased Madonna's book, nobody would tell me who had checked it out.

So the book is now presumably circulating through the halls of Congress in utter secrecy. (And the smart members of Congress are probably checking it out under the names of their staff members.)

But what happens when they are done pawing it?

Will it be put in the library stacks along with the 20 million other books and pamphlets?

"Actually, no," Elsie said. "Madonna's book will be housed in the Rare

Book and Special Collections Division."

But isn't that where they keep the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson's own hand? I asked.

"Yes," Elsie said.

And isn't that where they keep the Gutenberg Bible?

"Actually the Gutenberg is in a special display case, but, yes, it is part of that division," Elsie said.

And so you are going to house Madonna's book next to these hallowed documents?

"We have to," Elsie said. "That is where we put the books that might be stolen. Or mutilated."

I think this might turn out to be controversial, I said.

"The Library of Congress has been in controversies before," Elsie said. "As part of our services for the blind and physically handicapped, for instance, we produce Playboy magazine in Braille."

The Library of Congress gets Playboy magazine?

"Of course," Elsie said. "And then we produce copies in Braille. And some members of Congress asked why tax dollars should be spent for such a thing."

And how did the library respond? I asked.

Elsie pulled out a pamphlet that contained a quotation from Jefferson. "There is in fact no subject," he wrote, "to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

And you consider Madonna in chains and leather a subject to which Congress may refer? I asked.

"We are here to document contemporary American civilization," Elsie said. "And part of the reason is so future historians can look back and know what America was like in 1992."

In other words, you may see Madonna's book today and say: "This is garbage; this is filth."

But a historian may pick up a copy at the Library of Congress in 2092 and say: "This is filth; this is garbage."

So you can see the value.

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