Librarians classify creationist books as “religion,” not “science” (except at my school)

October 17, 2012 • 5:18 am

Have you ever wondered where librarians put books on creationism? The answer is (usually) under “religion,” not science. That’s not only appropriate, but raises the hackles of creationists.

This information comes from one of our readers, who wrote a post on this issue on his/her website, The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a site that you should look at, for it is dedicated to enlightenment values, especially the promotion of science and criticism of creationism.  The post in question is “How libraries classify creationism,” and it’s worth a read.

Also worth a read is a linked essay in the prestigious Library Journal, “Librarians decide what is reality.” (I love that title.) A quote from that essay, written by “Annoyed Librarian” (unsurprisingly, librarians cherish their privacy on such issues):

The problem isn’t that young earth creationism might be wrong. The problem is that it isn’t scientific. Our scientific congressman may have found some evidence as a scientist, but if you already have a belief, only look for evidence to confirm it, and ignore any evidence that refutes it, you can find evidence to support any belief.

That’s what most of us do for beliefs all the time. We start with something we believe and then select the evidence that supports the belief. It’s very human, but it’s not very scientific.

Nobody looking at the evidence who didn’t start with that particular religious belief would think the earth was 6,000 years old. Have Hindus or Buddhists evaluate the evidence and see how persuaded they are. Even the young earth creationists themselves admit they start from the creation account in Genesis and then go from there.

Apparently one of the most influential books on young earth creationism is The Genesis Flood: the Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. This book has sold 200,000 copies and a lot of people believe it has something to do with science. Where do libraries stand? According to the WorldCat record, libraries that have this book shelve it either in the BS or the 220, which are both call numbers for religion in LC and Dewey.

Another book I saw listed in the Conservapedia entry on Young Earth Creationism is Evolution: the Fossils Still Say No!, which you can tell from the exclamation point in the title is a really scientific book. Where do libraries keep the book? Either in the BL or 213, both still religion rather than science. By the way, the entry partly plagiarizes the Wikipedia entry. How desperate do you have to be to plagiarize from Wikipedia?

The partly plagiarized Conservapedia entry also lists two “peer-reviewed journals” that the Wikipedia somehow failed to find: the Creation Research Society Quarterly and the Journal of Creation, both classified in both LC and Dewey as religion journals.

The author also raises the possibility that creationists will object to this classification, causing a mini-kerfuffle in the library world.

What isn’t answered by the Library Journal article is whether books on Intelligent Design, like Darwin’s Black Box or Signature in the Cell, are also classified under religion. They should be, for they just use the gussied-up arguments of older creationists, like Yahweh-of-the-Gaps arguments.  I checked in the University of Chicago catalog, and, sure enough, both Behe’s and Meyer’s works are classified as science.  Meyer’s latest book isn’t in the catalog (something I’m sure will soon be rectified), but his older works, like Behe’s, reside in the science library and sit alongside real science books.

Going further,  I find that while Duane Gish’s infamous Evolution: the Fossils say No! is classified as science here (“QH”), Henry Morris’s similar books, like Scientific Creationism, are classified in the “B”s as religion. To wit:


There is no substantive difference in the tone or nature of these books; they’re both pure creationism masquerading as science. In fact, Morris’s book comes in two versions, one with reference to scripture and explicitly Christian in tone; the other purged of Biblical references and intended to be snuck into schools like a Trojan Horse.

I may have a word with our librarians about this.  Do we really want Duane Gish’s books in the science section given that Judge Jones labeled even Intelligent Design as “not science”? (My own view is that ID is bad science, motivated by religion, and should therfore not be in the science section.) Of course it’s the librarians and not judges who these decisions, but our science librarians are smart and savvy. I’ll give them a call.

57 thoughts on “Librarians classify creationist books as “religion,” not “science” (except at my school)

    1. I think you are correct about book stores. It is probably worth pointing out the errors to the managers.

      Before Borders went out of business I had an ongoing argument with them. They had a huge sign pointing to the religion section, but no sign pointing to the science section.

      My local independent book store has a puny science section about which I complain every time I go in — otherwise it is a very nice book store.

      Where should atheist books be shelved?

      1. Where should atheist books be shelved?

        That depends on what they’re about. If they’re mainly attacking religion (e.g. The God Delusion) they should go in religion. If they’re about equality and society (e.g. Attack of the Theocrats) they could go in politics/sociology. And if they’re about science (e.g. WEIT) they should go in science.

        1. I wouldn’t consider WEIT an atheist book, just a science book written by an atheist.

          I saw Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale book in the atheism section in my local Half-Price Books store, but didn’t tell the employees because they aren’t too picky about where they put books.

          1. Most librarians I know are actually very opposed to any kind of censorship or social engineering and would not want to use a classification system that casts any kind of judgement on the quality of the material.

            Correct placement of material into the existing category it does belong in is a different matter, and most if not all YEC/ID books probably do belong in religion, since most of those books identify with a particular intelligent designer identified with a particular religion.

            1. Not sure what happened, that was meant as response to different comment – `Too bad neither classification system has a category specifically for “pseudo-science and other falsehoods”‘

              I can’t believe it’s 2012 and wordpress still doesn’t have a way for users to alter where their response goes if it is incorrect. Lazy WP programmers, it could be done and debugged in less than a day.

  1. While YEC is pseudo-science, the science section of library may be appropriate (I haven’t read either) if those books are intended to address science issues, whether or not their conclusions are valid.

    Classification of a book as being on the subject matter of science is not endorsement of the book as valid science and I don’t think it is the place of librarians to determine what is valid science and what is not, but rather, the topic the book is intended to address.

    One possible advantage to having them in science is that when people go to get them, real science books on evolution probably will be in the same general vicinity and may be pulled by the reader as well.

    With respect to Conservapedia – it is so bad I initially believed it to be a parody web site mocking conservatives.

    1. the science section of library may be appropriate (I haven’t read either) if those books are intended to address science issues

      No, IMO that’s wrong. If I write a book about how prayer will reduce global warming, that is a book about a science issue (global warming). But it obviously does not belong in the science section, it belongs in the religion section.

      “About a science issue” is not a sufficient criteria. To be in the science section, a book should probably present a scientific argument, or describe a scientifc hypothesis, or talk about/apply some scientific methodology, etc… That’s just a rough and ready opinion; I’d be happy to have a librarian respond to this and give us their opinion on what the formal or ‘official’ criteria are.

  2. In my local library, Velikovsy’s “Worlds In Collision” is just a few feet away from “The Origin of Species” and Stephan J. Gould’s, “The Panda’s Thumb”. There’s another one on the lost continent of Mu, but I can’t remember the author.

    1. Hah!

      I recently challenged my local Waterstones (a UK high-street bookseller chain) because they had placed an Erik Von Daniken book under science.

      And to their credit, they moved it.

      I see a future for myself in bookshop activism. I may extend that to libraries.

    2. Before it closed, I would occasionally go into the local Borders and move the ID books to the humor section.

      The manager, at least, thought it was hilarious- he’d arranged the signs on the various sections so that bibles were found under Christian Fiction.

  3. Biologist turned academic librarian here. Yes, I classify creationism under religion (Dewey no 231.7652). In some cases I’ve gone as far as DYMO-marking them (loud yellow) with ‘Religion’, in case someone should have missed what section they were in…

    On the other hand, most creationist ‘publications’ won’t even make it through the screening. I believe evolutionary biologist should have a look at the material just to see what they’re up against, and how faulty arguments are. But most of the material I receive is so bad I can’t make myself shelve it.

  4. They’re all classified in Science in places like Barnes & Noble. The only creationism-type book I’ve ever found in Religion instead is Lee Strobel’s “Case for a Creator” — and that’s probably only because the rest of his books are in Religion…

    This was all in Alabama, of course. No idea if it’s different at bookstores in more…normal…places.

    1. Sadly, this is probably a bigger problem, as I bet more Americans encounter books in Barnes & Noble than their local public library (if they even have one), to say nothing of university libraries.

      This is how Amazon categorizes Darwin’s Black Box:

      #9 in Books > Medical Books > Basic Sciences > Biochemistry
      #11 in Books > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Evolution > Organic
      #23 in Books > Professional & Technical > Engineering > Bioengineering

      1. I suspect most people buying those books (or getting them from a library) already have their mind made up and it doesn’t really matter what section they are in.

    2. I think that we have to remember that bookstores are devoted to making books easier to sell whereas libraries are devoted to making books easier to find.

      You can’t hold bookstores to the same standards as libraries when it comes to what books go where. That would be like expecting insurance companies to look after the interests of their policyholders over the interests of their shareholders.

  5. I’d say it’s definitely worth talking to the librarians about re-classifying these books as religion. Unfortunately many books universities purchase come with cataloguing information created by the publisher or book vendor, so it’s possible the librarians didn’t decide themselves that these books belong in the science section and just didn’t change what they were given due to time constraints or some other reason.

  6. I am the science librarian at my institution, though I have only been looking after the biology collection for a couple of weeks. I had to check our classification of those books and found that we have none of them in our collection. We do have the Velikovsky book (mentioned in a comment above) and I was quite pleased to see these subject headings:

    Stars — Mythology.
    Stars — Religious aspects.

    Oh, and “Why Evolution is True” is on order as well as a few books by Richard Dawkins that we were missing.

    1. I just came across a Behe book at our local branch library in Keewatin. Any suggestions on bringing this up to the librarians attention (other than hey wtf?), and getting it reclassified as religious material?

  7. I, too, would like to see them in religion.

    I’m willing to be convinced otherwise if there’s a pragmatic argument in favor of another system. I.e., ‘we organize books so that people will most easily find what they are looking for, and here’s the empirical evidence that says they find their creationist literature easier when placed in the XYZ section.’ However, to my mind it would seem to me that the people looking for creationist literature would more likely also look for a bible or apologetics, vs. a Dawkins or Hawking book. So even the pragmatic position would (IM admittedly superficial O) support putting creatinoism in the religion section.

  8. Cataloging books is not an exact (part of library) science. If a particular volume meets the criteria for a number of topics, it is up to the individual cataloger to determin which of those possible topics should be the principal classification. Should a book of photographs of painted bodies be classified under “photography of the nude” (TR675), “anthropology – body image” (GT495) or “beauty – personal” (RA778)? It’s up to the cataloger.

    I have a copy of the book To Serve Man written by Karl Würf (a pseudonym of George H. Scithers) from the Damon Knight story of the same name (which inspired the better-known Twilight Zone episode). In the Library of Congress, you will find it shelved under TX652.W83, which puts it with the cookbooks. This means that the original cataloger either was clueless or had a sense of humor; the alternative classification would have been “cannibalism – humor” (PN6231).

    So there are three possibilities as to why a book on creationism becomes classified under one of the science categories: The cataloger may be unaware of the distinction; the cataloger’s own religious inclination may introduce a bias; the cataloger may be making a judgement call according to the content of the book – if it appears to be approaching the topic from a scientific angle, it may get a spot in the Q’s.

    I read somewhere that Charles Cutter (the creator of the system that became the Library of Congress cataloging system) chose BS for biblical religion to stand for “Bible Studies”. I can’t vouch for that story; I didn’t bother to search for verification. Books on psychology and the occult all come under BF; mythology is BL, non-Christian religions are BM-BR; category BS is reserved for the bible itself and related studies. Sorry to say, atheism is most commonly classified under BL2700-47, which makes it a subset of mythology according to the LC.

    1. One other thing – the classification that the Library of Congress assigns to a book is only a guideline. Individual libraries may assign their own call numbers based on local standards. It’s entirely possible that M.I.T. would file a book on creationism under religion whereas Liberty U. or Brigham Young U. would put it in with science.

      1. On the other hand, there can be significant downstream maintenance costs to deviating from the arbitrary standard with local customizations. It’s probably more economical to make sure all the librarians know the “TX652.W83” example to bring up whenever the question arises of how absolutely logical and authoritative the Library of Congress cataloging system is.

        1. Local customizations don’t incur additional costs because the vast majority of libraries maintain separate catalogues even within a single library system. Furthermore, the LC call number doesn’t mean anything to any of the primitive libraries using Dewey Decimal.

          Systemwide, the Milwaukee Public Library System has copies of WEIT in ten locations:

          Bay View General Nonfiction 576.8 C881
          Brown Deer Nonfiction 576.8 COY
          East Adult 576.8 C881
          Franklin Adult Nonfiction 576.8 C881
          Greendale Adult 576.8 C881
          Greenfield Non-Fiction 576.8 COY
          Hales Corners Adult 576.8 C881
          North Shore Non-Fiction 576.8 C881
          South Milwaukee Adult 576.8 COY
          Tosa Adult 575 C839

          Not all of these Duh Dewey numbers are the same. When someone goes to the East library, that branch’s catalogue is used; at Tosa, the same. For interlibrary loans, everything is online and any librarian gets the same list as above.

          The only people who are likely to be confounded by local customizations are book nerds like me, who, having memorized the major divisions of the LC system don’t realize that the South Bumfart branch puts To Serve Man under PN6231.

    2. “Sorry to say, atheism is most commonly classified under BL2700-47, which makes it a subset of mythology according to the LC.”

      Well, that’s not inappropriate: Atheism is the view that all theistic religion is no more (true) than mythology.

      Where do naturalism and humanism get classified? I don’t seem them in Class B.


  9. When I was studying computer science at Kent State I noticed a creationist book in the science section of the !*book-store*! and complained. I don’t know what was done about it. I guess there’s no catalog category of “pseudo-science” or “alternative science” or “esoteric science”.

    Many years ago an alert store browser notified Freedom from Religion Foundation of a Barnes and Noble store that had the Bible shelved under “Religious fiction”. They even sent in a photo of the shelf.

    1. It seems to be happening more frequently. I saw a number of people considering Ray Comfort’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” and I told them that it was no damned good and that they’d be much happier if they bought the 1st edition reprint which was next to it.

    1. I think the “BS” section is perfectly fine for those books. Take Gish and the rest and move them from 220, BL, 213 or whatever and file them under BS.

  10. Public library experience here.

    Guerilla reshelving: moving books to where you think they belong=not cool. Don’t waste other people’s time. Don’t waste tax money. Don’t make it hard for people to access materials just because you disagree with the content.

    Filing Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue in Science Fiction/Fantasy might be good for a giggle in the coffee shop but it’s lousy citizenship.

    Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris get shoplifted a lot.

    If you have an important point to make do it in writing. Use staff to your advantage by asking who to contact.

    1. My wife and I once came across a fundie zealot who was going through the BF and BL sections of the Chicago Public Library, taking books on non-Christian religions and the occult and hiding them behind other books in the stacks. We frogmarched the guy to the desk librarian and reported him. Security was called, and under guard he was taken back to recover the books he had hidden before we caught him. Meanwhile, the librarian confiscated his card and permanently blacklisted him from the Chicago library system.

      1. @E.A. Blair

        We would probably go with a warning for a first offense that didn’t involve damage or theft of materials. But I totally understand where the CPL was coming from.

        We’re in a small city. We know our customers. We can tell when there’s an email or a sermon going around. We get a small spike of people we’ve never seen before complaining about a book they obviously haven’t read.

        1. There’s a backstory I didn’t mention – we had a couple of friends who worked at the library where this occurred, and had been told that this was an ongoing problem. There were months and months of complaints about books in certain categories that were supposed to be on the shelf but could not be found, most frequently on non-Christian religion, the occult, evolution and sexuality. We only did what a library employee would have done.

          Apparently hiding books like that is a duty, but hiding bibles would be immoral.

  11. I have a fit when I see Behe and Sheldrake in the “Science” section of bookshops; I expect librarians to know better though.

  12. This information comes from one of our readers, who wrote a post on this issue on his/her website, The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a site that you should look at, for it is dedicated to enlightenment values, especially the promotion of science and criticism of creationism.

    Unfortunately, that blogger also considers a radical free market, privatization and deregulation ideology as an integral part of enlightenment values, and is on the record as believing that the Democrats are actively and deliberately (!) trying to destroy the USA with their evil socialism.

    Of course this would not matter so much if this ideology would not constantly pop up in the most unlikely blog posts, such as a discussion of how the worst thing about Christianity or the Discovery Institute is that they are communist, and other interesting insights like that.

    It should also be noted that the Curmudgeon does not react quite as kindly to disagreement as the host of this website or as any other bloggers who are genuinely interested in commentary and discussion.

    In summary, I don’t seem to have the stomach for that site, or at least for how it was when I gave it a try ca. two years ago, and that despite not even being an American.

    1. Alex:

      I understand what you’ve written, and it’s accurate, but Curmudgeon’s critique of creationism is *so* good that I just hold my nose and delete the few political posts. It’s a site I’d freely recommend to others.

      If anyone is wondering, perhaps his best post (it’s first on his own list of his best posts) is at:
      He beautifully contrasts real science with creation science, and closes with this paragraph: “Genuine science seeks to observe and explain the world in terms of mutually consistent, comprehensible, and verifiable principles that lead to testable observations. Creation science, on the other hand, seeks to describe an impossible reality in which Genesis is an accurate account of the world. In other words, creation science isn’t science at all — it’s a mental disorder. There’s no other way to describe it.”

  13. Too bad neither classification system has a category specifically for “pseudo-science and other falsehoods”. It would be ideal for all the creationist and ID crap, as well as Velikovsky’s immortal nonsense. And it would solve a lot of problems for librarians.

  14. Half-Price Books, the KC Missouri Public Library and the Johnson County Kansas Public libraries shelve the cretinist books in the Science section. No surprises there. Welcome to the midwest, where we party like it’s 1899.

  15. given that Judge Jones labeled even Intelligent Design as “not science”

    That is judicial opinion, not science.

    1. It’s part of the Library of Congress Classification system, which is used by the LC most university libraries and some public libraries. Where the Dummy Dewey Decimal system has only ten top-level categories, the LC system uses letters, giving 21 top-level categories (I & O are not used and W, X & Y are unassigned*). A Library of Congress call number’s first line has one to three letters; the second line has a number between 1 and 9999, and the following lines use either a number preceded by a decimal point (to further subdivide the category) and a Cutter number consisting of a decimal, letter and number which usually codes the author’s name and/or the book’s title. LC numbers generally do not become as lond and unwieldy as Dewey numbers and (at least in my opinion) make sorting, shelfreading and shelving easier.

      The Library of Congress Online Catalog is here and is open to the public.

      It was developed in 1897 and gradually implemented in the Library of Congress over the next forty years, and has been adopted in a number of other countries.

      *In the movie National Treasure, the president’s “secret book” was filed under a call number beginning with the unassigned category X.

      1. Having just checked a random selection of books off the shelf, only one (a facsimile of Gray’s “Anatomy” ; try searching for that online these days!) had a Dewey number. Everything else, less than 15 years on my book shelves, simply refers the user to the British Library for a “Catalogue In Publication” record for that book. But that doesn’t appear to be about shelving, or logical placement of that volume.
        That’s slightly puzzling. But it’s not worth following up at the moment.

  16. I asked a librarian about this matter when it came to finding some pseudoscience in with the science (I don’t remember which pseudoscience). The answer was they don’t want to prejudge what is good science and what is not, given lack of expertise, etc.

  17. Also interesting is that the bookstore attached to the med-school where I work (it’s a B&N branch) classify books on Atheism, like TGD, and Vic Stenger’s “God and the folly of faith” as science books, and books by Dennett and Harris are always in the philosophy section. I haven’t found Hitchen’s books in this store, but to be fair it’s pretty small and they don’t have a huge selection. The religion section in the store has several empty shelves, but apparently putting atheism books in the religion section is no-no.

    I have seen one creationism book on the science shelf but it wasn’t there long 😉 and I haven’t seen such a thing happen since.

  18. I sent this to an Australian librarian friend of mine and this was her answer.

    ‘In the US the Library of Congress cataloguing will rule the way on this. Most US libraries (and here also now in terms of larger libraries) follow the LC cataloguing records, saves them doing the original work. The LC has some really weird subject headings too. I hated having to follow them, their terminology is not suited to Australia and often I wouldn’t have agreed with them anyway.’

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