Almost four years ago we wrote Creationism and the Dewey Decimal System about a little-noticed but very real struggle the creationists have with librarians and their long-established method of classifying books.
As you can imagine, creationists are silently furious that many of their works are classified as religion, not science. Librarians are not unaware of the power they wield. Today we found evidence of that in Library Journal — the oldest and most respected publication covering the library field. Their “About Us” page says:
Considered to be the “bible” of the library world, LJ is read by over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries.
Their article is Librarians Decide What is Reality. We’ll skip a chatty introduction about Creationist Congressman Paul Broun and get to what interests us. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added for emphasis:
Let’s talk about a different kind of book challenge than usual. I propose a hypothetical challenge to how a book might be classified. What about a book teaching young earth creationism as science rather than as a belief based on an interpretation of the holy book of one of the world’s religions? Where should it go? Religion or Science?
That gets right to the issue. Let’s read on:
The problem isn’t that young earth creationism might be wrong. The problem is that it isn’t scientific.
Nicely put. We continue:
Apparently one of the most influential books on young earth creationism is The Genesis Flood: the Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications [a creationist classic by Henry Morris]. 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 [Library of Congress Classification system] and Dewey.
That’s where it belongs. Here’s more:
Another book I saw listed in the Conservapedia entry on Young Earth Creationism is Evolution: the Fossils Still Say No! [another classic by Duane Gish], 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 Library Journal is more sarcastic than your Curmudgeon! Moving along:
So far, so good. Some people have a religious belief about the age of the earth and libraries buy books and journals created by and for these believers and shelve them in the religion section of the library. Everybody gets some representation in the collection.
The system seems not only fair, but also accurate. Here’s another excerpt:
But what if a patron wandered into a library that had both Origins plus Evolution: the Fossils Still Say No! and demanded that Evolution…! be shelved in the Gs or the Qs or the 500s near the other [science] books. They’re all scientific books about the origin of the universe and human life, right?
That’s how creationists think. On with the article:
How should librarians respond to this challenge? There’s the bureaucratic response that LC or Dewey just place the books there. Local librarians don’t make up the classification scheme.
Then there’s the argument that any books talking about creationism are religious, so they go into religion. Maybe, but most creationists aren’t young earth creationists, and many of them find the scientific account of cosmology and geology and evolution compatible with their religious beliefs.
The author is obviously aware of the full range of creationist thought. So how does the classification controversy get resolved? Here it comes:
Classification schemes impose order on reality. In a way, we decide what reality is. Librarians may follow the general consensus of educated people, but it’s still them making the call on whether something is science or religion, and the decision is clear: creationism isn’t science, even though some people might claim otherwise.
That’s how it is now, but it may not be that way forever. The author asks this provocative question:
Librarians are supposedly ready to defend books against challenges, but are they ready to defend the order they’ve imposed on reality?
Then the author uses the example of a follower of Congressman Paul Broun:
Some of the people who voted for that congressman are probably able to read [BWAHAHAHAHAHA!], and some of the readers probably use libraries. Why shouldn’t they challenge why Origins is in the science section rather than the fiction section and Evolution…! is in the religion section instead of the science section?
That could certainly happen. The author concludes the article with a question:
If given this challenge in your library, what would you do?
When the challenge comes, as it surely will, it’s going to be interesting.
Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.