A librarian classifies Ken Ham’s book on dinosaurs

February 9, 2020 • 9:15 am

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.

Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken Ham

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.

Jacqui Higgins-Dailey

h/t: Ginger K

35 thoughts on “A librarian classifies Ken Ham’s book on dinosaurs

  1. It’s too bad Ms. Higgins-Dailey isn’t working in a library that uses the Library of Congress system rather than Dewey Decimal. Under the LC system, the bible, and works related to the bible and biblical studies, are placed in the call number heading “BS”.

    1. Sadly the LC numbers sometimes inaccurately catalogue religious books as science books. The Discovery Institute excels at getting inaccurate LC numbers which makes it difficult to reshelve them in bookstores and libraries.

      1. I asked about this once at McGill, which uses LC. Apparently it is correct to include a pseuodscience with its relevant science, because the library does not want to be a truth arbiter. So, for example, one finds psychoanalysis with psychology.

        1. In this case, ID books are together with paleontology and geology books. I think with ID it’s worse than pseudo-science because ID is proven to be religious in nature.

    2. LoC doesn’t typically make sense in a public library, it’s not what the system was designed for.

      Dewey is no better, as it was developed for a non-fiction only collection, with very limited categories based on what Dewey decided was important.

      Best is to use neither and go to something like BISAC or Wordthink. Essentially you go to what subject areas like a bookstore does, which most people find easier to navigate.

  2. An excellent story. Personally I would settle for categorizing any book with Mr Ham’s name on the cover as fiction, but that would be inflammatory, whereas putting it on the religion shelves is unarguable.

  3. It is too bad the system does not have a separate area for mis. crap. All of Bill O’Reilly’s books could go there as well.

  4. I had a very similar conversation with my professor while I was getting my MLIS. I agree with the outcome and he would, too. The books “aboutness” is religious and teleological – dinosaurs are the hook.

  5. In the U.S. I think we have all seen creationist books shelved in the science section in bookstores. Would that the management there have at least a modicum of the reasoning owned by a librarian.

    1. It probably has to do with the fact that libraries exist to help people find books while bookstores exist to help publishers sell books.

  6. How do librarians decide what books to accept/purchase for the library? The decision has to be made by someone for some reason, and when if ever do they decline to accept books offered by the author or the public.

    1. If had had been that librarian who came across that book I would have tossed it out as not interesting or not having enough public appeal, interest. or demand. Choice of books is part of the job.

    2. Sometimes publishers give them to libraries for free, especially academic publishers. They’re also often donated by people clearing out their personal possessions.

    3. Librarians pick books in a variety of ways, most have a collection policy which includes what donations they’ll accept for circulation and which they won’t. I do know of libraries/library districts that do not accept any donations for use in the collection, though they’ll take them to resell in a variety of ways.

      There is usually at least a semester class in getting your MLS on collection development, though in a very brief summation the goal is to meet the needs of everyone in the community, without personal judgement censoring your procuring things for the collection. In many of my friends cases this means they buy what they personally feel to be crap books on homeopathy, climate change denial, and young earth creationism, as a good chunk of the community that funds the library wants to read it. Just a few examples to make the point. Done correctly it should be a very data driven process, with circulation reports and item requests suggesting where limited budgets should go.

  7. Hip hip hooray X 3 for Ms. Higgins-Dailey and for librarians in general. They do yeoman’s work and generally do it courteously and well, all for less recognition and remuneration than they likely could earn elsewhere.

    1. That yeoman’s work is especially true at the K-5 level, in that students wantonly pull out books, and sometimes re-shelf them elsewhere, effectively losing them. (Until year’s end, when a generally inventory is taken.)

      Reminds me of lazy grocery store shoppers, who will leave, say, canned vegetables in say, the soft drink section.

  8. I agree. Librarians are quiet heroes. Invariably, they are smart, meticulous, and very helpful, and of course, humble and lovable. There is a National Library Workers’ Day. In 2020 it’s April, 21.

  9. In our library the ‘Faith vs. FACT’ book is at 201.65 COY and not in the science section. If we consider only two basic categories … fiction and fact … it is tough for many to decide where to put the Bible and other holy writings. I would put stuff like philosophy, language, culture, religion into the fiction section … but then again, does the majority rule in democracy here? Science is obviously not democratic, and there are many facts that no human knows yet. And dreams, culture, music, novels, beliefs are part of reality so it gets confusing to many silly people.

    1. 201 is:
      201 Religious mythology, general classes of religion, interreligious relations and attitudes, social theology

      Undoubtedly FvF touches on some of those topics. It also touches on science. Where do you put a book that would fit two (or more) classifications?

      The only Google ref to 201.65 I can find is:
      201.65 = Religions et sciences. Classer ici les rapports entre la religion et les sciences.

      That seems to fit fairly well.


  10. Brava to Ms Higgins-Dailey. A very sensible approach. And I cannot help but agree with an earlier comment that ‘librarians are awesome’, since I am one, albeit retired. 🙂

  11. All due credit to Higgins-Dailey. She made the right call here.

    I worked at a public library for a time as a reference librarian, where my duties included managing the science collections. While there, I found that ID books by the likes of Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe were shelved in the 570s, among actual science books.

    I had them reclassified (somewhere in the 100s, as I recall), but it was a judgment call on my part, because there was no prevailing guidance in the library community. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) lists catalog numbers in the 570s (Dewey) or QHs (Library of Congress Classification) as the most frequent classification for ID books. I also checked the catalogs of public libraries in New York, Chicago, L.A., Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, and the District of Columbia – in each location, the story was the same.

    That was three years ago now. Maybe things have changed. But I was pretty disappointed when I learned how pervasive the error was.

    1. I have encountered secular versions of (say) homeopathy and free energy BS. Where do they go? I have a feeling they will appear in pharmacy and engineering or something like that!

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