With the exception of a few censorious individuals (see here and here), I am a big fan of librarians—especially school librarians and public librarians. They regularly refuse to censor or remove controversial books from their libraries, put on displays of banned books, and are, in general, adamant proponents of free expression. One example, which I love, is this one just published in Intellectual Freedom Blog, from the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (what a great place to work!). It’s about a librarian who was asked to remove or reshelve a book on dinosaurs by Ken Ham. (This was, of course, a creationist screed.) Click on the screenshot below to read the story:
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey is a librarian who works for both the Phoenix (Arizona) Public Library and is an adjunct faculty member at Glendale Community College. In the former job she got an unusual request, and the seriousness with which she took it, and the research she did in deciding where to put that book, is admirable. Here’s what Ms. Higgins-Dailey writes:
Phoenix Public Library gets very few requests for reconsideration each year but most of them are for children’s materials, which is not a surprise. Parents are concerned about the materials that their children consume, as they should be – but oftentimes this results in their desire to remove materials for all children.
As it happens, there was a request for reconsideration waiting for me to research on my first day of work in the collection development department. The title was Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken Ham. The request came from a parent concerned about being misled by the book’s title. The book was shelved in 567.9 (dinosaurs) but the information within the book was a biblical interpretation of the timeline of when dinosaurs walked the earth. The parent was concerned that it was shelved with the other books about dinosaurs from a scientific perspective and requested that the library remove the book or shelve in a religious section.
This was a tricky question because it is imperative, as public librarians, we offer materials for people who ascribe to a variety of different belief systems. But, the title in question did not fit with the standard scientific theories on when dinosaurs walked the earth, claimed that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together, and that dinosaurs were created on Day 6, when God created animals.
So, I did what librarians do best – I researched. I read the entire book and confirmed it was a religious interpretation of dinosaurs from a biblical perspective. I noted that it specifically gave tips on how to refute scientific theories on evolution. Then, I looked at where this item was shelved in other libraries, using WorldCat to find other systems in AZ that had this title, and found that they were shelved in the religious section – either 231.7 (divine law and miracles) or 220.859 (biblical animals).
It went to “biblical animals”. LOL!
With this information, I consulted with our collection manager and we both determined it would make the most sense to shelve the title in 220.859. I crafted a letter to share our determination with the customer who made the request.
In my time in the role of children & teen collection development librarian, we have not removed any materials from the library. As librarians, we know removing offending materials isn’t a feasible solution and usually explaining our selection policies and reasons we will retain the book is enough to satisfy our customers. This has been the case, so far, with all of the titles that have come across my desk with requests for removal.
I agree with Ms. Higgins-Dailey that these books should not be censored or removed from the library. A public library is one place where freedom of speech—or, in this case, writing—is an imperative. How else can people judge creationism unless they can read its arguments and assertions?
Now since creationism isn’t science but a form of religion, those books needn’t be placed in the science section, but they need to be available. This librarian’s diligence is admirable, and her decision on the mark. Therefore, I give her the WEIT nod as Librarian of the Year, even though the year’s barely started.
h/t: Ginger K