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Decker Library Erotic Collection

Research guide for the Decker Library Erotic Collection

History and Scope of Decker Library Erotic Collection

Cover image taken by Art Soontornsaratool, Digital Initiatives Unit

History of Decker Library Erotic Collection


Decker Library Erotic Collection features underground and alternative publications of various sexual communities. The focus is on artworks and publications from groups that were marginalized and persecuted but were able to form safe communities for sexual expression through underground publishing and subscription services. Many of these works represent a period in the United States (and other countries) when these erotic materials were legally suppressed. Obscenity laws were used to punish publishers as well as people who possessed these materials. Many of the materials were not readily available and had to be obtained directly from the publisher by a subscription service--and for legal reasons the subscriber would often have to indicate on the subscription form that they did not find the material erotic. This collection demonstrates changing artistic styles and ways of representation, often mirroring broader societal changes. The works range from 1930s through 2000s, and contain early Tom of Finland as well as contemporary gay African American artists.


The mission of Decker Library and MICA is to be an inclusive institution, to empower artistic research and creative innovation.  The collection incorporates this mission to be inclusive of consenting sexual expression as well as supporting the curriculum, which explores a variety of creativity that includes erotic artwork.

History (how it happened)

The collection began as a gift from a donor who expressed to the director of the library that they wished to gift a collection of erotic materials to Decker Library while remaining anonymous. The director accepted the collection with the caveat of keeping the donor’s name off the library catalog records. The original donation was made into a collection, which the library has expanded to include a variety of materials. The collection supports the curriculum at MICA, which includes relevant courses such as a course on erotic illustration. As the collection is expanded from the original donation, it now includes historical and contemporary materials from zinesters, book artists, illustrators, photographers, and comic book artists such as Alan Moore. Some material also covers erotic literature and photography. Through the steps of creating a local series note, it was easy to expand the collection quickly.


All of the materials are cataloged and discoverable in the OPAC with a specific-set search and local series note.  The specific-set search (or search limit) is found using the drop down menu under the initial search bar. The local series note is a catalog record field (Series) which states: Decker Library Erotic Collection.  One can select the series note to do a search in the OPAC for other items with that note. Another way is to search using the drop down menu in the initial search bar to select “Series” and type in the Series Title.

A majority of the original donation’s cover art is viewable on the OMEKA Online Exhibit.

Going forward

The hope is to continue to add to the collection in order to include all types of sexuality expressed in erotica and further support the curriculum. 

There are many items in the Decker Library, which cover erotic art and are not part of the collection. To find them go to the "Find Materials in Decker Library" page. On that page, there are many ways listed to search for various erotic art materials.

History of Obscenity & Sodomy Laws

Decker Library at the Maryland Institute College of Art | Location: 1401 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD 21217 | Mailing: 1300 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD 21217

Research Help: 410-225-2273 / | General Questions: 410-225-2272 /

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