Ellen Jarosz Holds the Keys to the Nation's Biggest Sex Archives

As head of special archives and collections at CSUN's Oviatt Library, Ellen Jarosz has thousands of skin flicks on file for scholarly research.
As head of special archives and collections at CSUN's Oviatt Library, Ellen Jarosz has thousands of skin flicks on file for scholarly research.
Photo by Ryan Orange


What's a nice, Wisconsin-bred librarian like Ellen Jarosz doing in a place like this? Keeping an eye on a major academic jewel on the California State University Northridge campus: one of the most extensive accumulations of videos, publications, books and art devoted to human sexuality.

As head of special archives and collections at CSUN's Oviatt Library, Jarosz has thousands of skin flicks on file for scholarly research. Of the 45,000 items in the rare-book collection, 10,000 are about sex. One, published in 1584 in Latin, suggests a treatment for syphilis. The stacks contain titles such as The Poison of Prudery and The X-Rated Videotape Star Index II. CSUN's archives across all topics take up two miles of shelves and Jarosz, 34, isn't sure how much is devoted to sex — there's too much to count.

"A lot of incoming freshmen hear about the porn collection," Jarosz says, "and we tell them it's here with us and they can see it. We do solicit donations on sex and gender, and we get a lot of anonymous donors. Sometimes we come in and find cardboard boxes filled with stuff, or someone will walk in and say they're dropping something off for a friend."

Schooled at the University of Wisconsin, Jarosz came to CSUN after seven years at San Diego State University's library. Her master's degree in library science with a concentration on archives made her the perfect fit at the Oviatt. Jarosz is not your stereotypical librarian, preferring blue jeans by Seven and high heels. "I've learned a lot," she says, "mostly that people are endlessly complicated and that sexual expression is a core aspect of our identity as humans. Before I took this job, I didn't even know what I didn't know. After three years, I don't have any colorful words that I'm afraid to say."

There's a common misperception that CSUN's human-sexuality collection got started because the university is close to Chatsworth, a center of porn filmmaking. Not so. History professor and sex psychologist Vern Bullough and his wife, Bonnie, donated 8,700 pieces, which acted as the seed, along with an endowment. The university collects a broad range of topics beyond sex, such as the International Guitar Research Archives, and a vast trove of manuscripts, rare books, periodicals, maps, prints and art.

Jarosz's office and a small reading room are behind locked glass doors, requiring a receptionist to make eye contact before buzzing in researchers. Jarosz says some material can be difficult to look at, because with "the more explicit stuff, you get too sensitized." One lifestyle magazine shows nude teenagers playing volleyball and reclining on the beach. "Sometimes you wonder what the subscribers were really looking for," she says.

Other finds in the porn collection elicit howls, "because you're never too old to share a giggle with another student or faculty member."

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