How Librarians Classify Creationism

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.

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26 responses to “How Librarians Classify Creationism

  1. How appropriate that religion books are classified in the Library of Congress scheme under “BS” for bull ***. A happy accident? Freudian slip? That’s wonderful in any case!

  2. On every visit to Half-Price Books I make it a point to pick out a Creationism book or two from the Science/Evolution shelf and re-shelve it more appropriately under Religious Fiction.

    ” How desperate do you have to be to plagiarize from Wikipedia?”

    WHEEEE!!!

  3. Christine Janis,

    How about a compromise and classifying creationism under Science Fiction?

  4. Why on earth would you sully a section filled with the imaginative writings of the world’s best and brightest science fiction authors like Clarke and Bradbury and Asimov by shelving these literary greats next to creationist knuckleheads?

    Give ‘em their own section. Too bad the BS classification is already so appropriately placed.

  5. “Some of the people who voted for that congressman are probably able to read [BWAHAHAHAHAHA!], and some of the readers probably use libraries.”

    These look like two very aggressive assumptions to me.
    Congressman Broun call Casey !

  6. Retired Prof

    “In a way, [librarians] decide what reality is.”

    Yeah, maybe, but only for the unwary who mistake the map for the territory. I get that the writer is being mildly facetious, yet it’s worth noting that reality is what it is. Human beings devise classification systems as abstract sorts of grids to lay across it for points of reference. Different grids might trick us into seeing reality in different ways, often usefully so, but that’s about it.

    The only readers whose study might be affected by a change in where books are indexed in the system are the ones who eschew the catalog in favor of just browsing the shelves. An inconvenience for them, but no worse than failing to find books because they are checked out, and just as easy to overcome.

  7. The whole truth

    If those books were categorized and placed in the science section by librarians the creobots would be screaming ‘See, even librarians believe that our books are scientific! Therefor jesus!’

    In other words, creobots would tout librarians as authoritative experts in science and book classification if the librarians were to put those books where the creobots want them, but when librarians don’t do that the creobots see librarians as god haters with an evil agenda.

  8. Too bad there’s not a library section on mindless propagandistic nonsense. I think the librarians are already being more than fair; creationist tracts really should go straight to the circular file. I applaud their resolve not to be pushed around, or surrender their integrity by being actively misleading. I wish certain state education boards showed as much backbone.

  9. Ceteris Paribus

    When Orwell’s “Animal Farm” came under criticism in the mid 60’s by the John Birch Society, and was reportedly banned in some places, the intrepid librarian at my cousin’s high school decided to avoid the decision of whether to shelve it under “politics” or “fiction”, and simply made it available under the “agriculture” section of that rural school.

    I propose the librarians’ dilemma over creationist books can be solved by just adding it to the shelves now labelled “childrens’ fairy tales”. Actually, the creationist bibles themselves would fit comfortably right next to the books by the Brothers Grimm.

  10. Library Journal asks, “If given this challenge in your library, what would you do?”

    Earlier in the article, they give a possible answer to their own question:

    “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.”

    Since it doesn’t make any sense to argue with a creationist, this is probably the best approach.

    The diplomatic librarian might say, “I can certainly understand your concern, Ma’am. However, the Union Township Library doesn’t determine a particular book’s classification, nor does the county library system. In fact, it’s determined by the Library of Congress.”

    That should end the discussion. Librarians have better things to do with their time, such as directing aggrieved creationists to the Earth Sciences section.

  11. My wife, who works in a library, gets asked “Where is your Christian fiction section?” . Which is always funny.. Of course they don’t have one.

  12. At our local Barnes & Noble there’s a section labeled appropriately:

    Religious Fiction

  13. Well, I actually shelve the 200’s, philosophy and religion, at my local library, here in the bizzare end of the Bible belt. I’m retired and this is a fun job. I’m in an invironment where all my coworkers enjoy books and knowledge. Most are young people seeking degrees at the local college. Its great.
    But, I get the 1st Amendment shoved in my face every day. I shelve Ken Ham’s books and they’re checked out frequently. Its difficult but its the 1st Amendment and I’m a big fan of the 1st Amendment. Fortunately, there are about 20ish books supporting evolution, also in the 200’s.
    The 500’s – science – also contain many books on evolution. There are more books on dinosaurs than general evolution. Many are written as junior-nonfiction. To my shock, the other day, we discovered a J-nonfiction book in the 500’s, describing how humans and dinosaurs lived together. As I remember there was no mention of God or religion, which I suppose moved it from the 200’s to science. Sneaky bastards!
    If anyone is interested in the citation I’ll get it next time I’m at work.

    David Grow

  14. I propose creationism titles also be included in science fiction areas of the library system.

  15. Creationism should go in the fantasy section, not sci-fi. There’s still no science involved.

  16. Retired Prof

    David Grow, speaking of fans of the First Amendment, one of my favorite librarians put up a sign in the library where she was director that read:

    IF NOTHING HERE OFFENDS YOU, PLEASE COMPLAIN

  17. My local library is quite small but has a good kids section. The librarian has resolved the problem of classification by having a well labelled area for “Mythology and Religion”. Common sense prevails.

  18. Curmudgeon: “The author is obviously aware of the full range of creationist thought.”

    But still horrendously confused. I got excited when I read:

    …but most creationists aren’t young earth creationists,…

    My excitement turned to exasperation with the very next words:

    … and many of them find the scientific account of cosmology and geology and evolution compatible with their religious beliefs.

    Many of them???, as in “creationists”? I was desperately hoping for someone other than me to advertise the fact that most (a little more than half by most data) evolution-deniers are not young-earthers, but that they should never be confused with theistic evolutionists, who are among the staunchest critics of ID/creationism.

    Speaking of ID, where would they put an ID screed if it makes no mention of God or Genesis, and does not challenge the age of earth or life? I know where I’d put it – in the pseudoscience section, alongside YEC, OEC, geocentrism and flat-earthism.

  19. Bill:The librarian has resolved the problem of classification by having a well labelled area for “Mythology and Religion”

    Redundant, but probably avoids unnecessary confrontation.

    Frank J: “Speaking of ID, where would they put an ID screed if it makes no mention of God or Genesis, and does not challenge the age of earth or life? I know where I’d put it – in the pseudoscience section..”

    The “Mythology and Religion” section would also work. Judge Jones said it’s religion, and that’s good enough for me. At any rate, it’s certainly mythology.

  20. “Artor | 8-October-2012 at 11:05 pm | Creationism should go in the fantasy section, not sci-fi. There’s still no science involved.”

    Artor;
    Well said. I retract my earlier recommendation.

  21. In November of 2005, a federal district court judge ruled (in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District) that so-called “Intelligent Design” is religion, not science. If you equate creationism with intelligent design (hardly a stretch) then the court’s ruling implies that both creationism and intelligent design are religion. All that the librians need to do is cite the court’s ruling. For librarians to shelve creationism or ID books in the science section would risk lawsuits similar to the one brought by Kitzmiller. Libraries shouldn’t be acting in ways that invite lawsuits, especially if the outcome of the suit is predicted by a quick look at Kitzmill v Dover.
    Libraries should be spending their funds on books and other resources, not on lawyers on the losing side of avoidable cases.

  22. I think this is an ‘American’ problem – this obsession with what something is called, rather than what it is. Perhaps we could renumber the science section ‘666’ and see if the creationists still want their books put in it.

    The purpose of a classification system is not to classify the book but to enable someone to find the book from its classification. Putting all the creationist books into the science section is to lose them. If someone actually wanted a creationist book on radiometric dating, how would they find it? They would have to trawl through thousands of publications on the subject before they stumbled on a creationist one. Is this what the creationists want?

  23. Alan(UK): “Is this what the creationists want?”

    Surely some do and some don’t. Some think that having to hunt for it is a small price to pay for the opportunity to brag. The ID peddlers want their phony “critical analysis of evolution” in the science section hoping that someone looking for real science will find it by mistake. But they don’t want YEC nonsense there. Though they are unlikely to advertise that.

  24. Audrey Evermore

    Creationists can read ! … Well well well , they must be evolving !

  25. Audrey Evermore

    I agree with Alan (Uk) . The Librarians are protecting the creationists from entering The Dark Ages.

    No other discipline wants to share a shelf with them either . Something to do with Standards perhaps.

  26. Curmy recently got a nod from Coyne over at WEIT – about time!! :-)