Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Staffers at BYU's Lee Library have compiled a guide to romance novels \\\\— based on two Web sites \\\\— that considers the quality of the writing and the book's steaminess.

PROVO — Romance novels range from mild to racy, and the bawdier books cause a ticklish problem for the library at Brigham Young University.

A few years ago, librarians at the church-owned school created a ratings guide for romances. The idea is to help students who want to avoid the steamier novels.

"The binder's purpose is to meet the needs of students who come from all walks of life," said Michael Hooper, communications manager at the Harold B. Lee Library. "While BYU's selection is pretty tame compared to others, we want to help students know what's pretty mild and what might be spicier."

BYU's ratings also steer the library's purchasing decisions.

"Those books that get the high ranking don't get ordered by the library," Hooper said.

Students say they recognize the library is walking a tightrope while building a collection appropriate for a library named for the late Harold B. Lee, considered a prophet by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for a university owned by the church.

The ratings could send the accidental message that BYU supports "certain things," said Maryann Briggs, an English major from Kaysville, because the library does carry some books on the suggestive side.

On the other hand, the refusal to carry certain books could open the library to other complaints.

"I think the binder is a good idea, but I'd be hesitant to support any kind of censorship," said Lisa Bleazard, an English major from Elko, Nev.

Where to draw the line, however, can be troublesome.

For example, "I don't support erotica," Bleazard said.

"If people find some of those racy novels in the library, there might be a concern because BYU is a private university," Briggs said. "But no one should have a problem if the library doesn't have them, because you can buy those books at the check-out line at the grocery store or get them at the public library."

The ratings binder sits atop a short bookshelf of romances in a cozy reading area called the Sampler Room on the library's main floor. The customized ratings are based on two Web sites that rank the sensuality in romance novels.

The reviews at www.theromancereader.com use the movie ratings system, starting at G and progressing to NC-17, which is described as, "Ouch, don't burn yourself. This book is hot, hot, hot!"

At the site All About Romance (www.likesbooks.com/aarrevus.html), the rankings begin at "Kisses" and elevate to "Subtle," "Warm," "Hot" and "Burning."

BYU averages the ratings on the two sites and converts them to a number system. Books are ranked between one for mild and five for extra-steamy.

An introduction in the binder gives this explanation: "Over the years there have been a number of complaints about the sexual content of romance books in the Sampler Collection. In the past there have been few ways to control this."

The Web ratings were the answer, said John Christensen, who compiles the binder and wrote the introduction.

The most prolific author listed in the binder is Nora Roberts, with 78 ratings on the two Web sites. Her average is a middle-of-the-road 2.86. Alison Lane earned a very mild 1.23.

Several authors got the full 5.0, but for just one or two books. The sauciest author with 10 or more ratings is Susan Johnson, who wound up with a hot, hot, hot 4.67.

Christensen last updated the list in February. He said his general rule is to not purchase books that rank above 3.0, but with some authors he'll go as high as 3.2 or 3.3.

"Anything approaching or above 4.0 I've tried to get rid of," he said.

Briggs "admitted" to reading romances but generally prefers classics to today's popular novels, most of which she finds boring.

"I like the tender love stories, not the modern, racy ones," Briggs said.

Those who want romance without the steamy passages can also turn to LDS fiction, said Andrea Borgersen, a sophomore from Centerville, Ohio.

"I like the LDS ones because they're clean, they promote our faith and beliefs and they always have happy endings," she said.

Those sensitive to sexual content stand to benefit from the ratings, said communications major Sarah Chamberlain.

"It can only help," she said. "It's like movie ratings. But you have to remember it's someone else's idea, and you have to take that at face value. We're old enough to make our own decisions, but it's nice not to be shocked."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com