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Librarians Decide What is Reality

Related to our exciting discussion about young earth creationism a couple of weeks ago is this article about a congressman from Georgia who gave a speech claiming, “there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.” He found out that scientific data as a scientist, so there.

He also said that “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Maybe someone told him that Sheldon isn’t the funniest character on the show, which really would be a lie straight from the pit of hell.

A few years ago the same guy said that Obama was going to start a Marxist dictatorship just like Hitler did.

It’s the kind of stuff that makes politics so entertaining in America, and shows the problem with some beliefs isn’t their truth or falseness, but the company you have to keep while believing them.

Based on the comments on the previous posts, young earth creationism has something inherently to do with homeschooling, but since I could never figure out the connection let’s talk about libraries instead.

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?

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.

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.

Other books on the origins of the universe and the earth might be shelved elsewhere. For example, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution is at QB or 523, both call numbers for science books. I’m assuming this is a popular book on the topic given the 1800 or so libraries that own it. Or another book, Richard Leakey’s Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal about the Emergence of Our Species and its Possible Future, an even more popular book shelved at GN or 573.

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 books. They’re all scientific books about the origin of the universe and human life, right?

Better yet, since both of the Origins books are evidently false from the perspective of the young earth creationist, why aren’t they in the fiction section instead of the science section?

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.

Of course, some librarian somewhere decided to classify Leakey’s Origins in GN and 573 and another chose to classify Evolution…! in religion. Could they have been wrong?

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.

However, they don’t necessarily write books on creationism as science, but most of the creationist books, no matter how gussied up with scientific terms, are probably going to talk about Genesis at some point. Basing a belief in book of the Bible is religious.

That obviously wouldn’t satisfy the young earth creationist, though. Would librarians then have to go into a broader defense of their classification schemes and the ways librarians interpret them? It’s not like anyone would say classification schemes are perfect, and they’ve been criticized from all corners.

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.

Librarians are supposedly ready to defend books against challenges, but are they ready to defend the order they’ve imposed on reality?

Some of the people who voted for that congressman are probably able to read, 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?

If given this challenge in your library, what would you do?

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Comments

  1. Richard Allman says:

    I’m not a librarian but I’d classify all the religious and creationist books, new earth or old as sub-catagories in either the Fiction or Philosophy section.

  2. Andrew says:

    Evolution…! and other similar works should always go in the religion section because Young Earth Creationism is, always has been, and always will be the attempt to erect a shoddy facade of scientific sounding words around a giant post hoc fallacy in an attempt to “prove” a religious cosmology with zero legitimate evidence in its favor.

  3. Interesting point, as usual.

    And why are ex-gay books completely absent? WWALD (What Would AL Do)? See: “Some ‘Censorship’ is Good,” Annoyed Librarian, Library Journal, 8 October 2008: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2008/10/08/some-censorship-is-good/

    • Pizza&IceCream says:

      If homosexuality is a choice and not dictated by genetics, please tell about the day you decided to be a heterosexual.

    • @Pizza&IceCream, in response to your question, my sexuality is irrelevant to libraries censoring ex-gay material by calling it “selection.”

      As ALA’s Judith Krug said, and it applies to any group, including ex-gays:

      We have to serve the information needs of all the community and for so long “the community” that we served was the visible community…. And so, if we didn’t see those people, then we didn’t have to include them in our service arena. The truth is, we do have to.…

      We never served the gay community. Now, we didn’t serve the gay community, because there weren’t materials to serve them. You can’t buy materials if they’re not there. But part of our responsibility is to identify what we need and then to begin to ask for it. Another thing we have to be real careful about is that even though the materials that come out initially aren’t wonderful, it’s still incumbent upon us to have that voice represented in the collection. This was exactly what happened in the early days of the women’s movement, and as the black community became more visible and began to demand more materials that fulfilled their particular information needs. We can’t sit back and say, “Well, they’re not the high-quality materials I’m used to buying.” They’re probably not, but if they are the only thing available, then I believe we have to get them into the library.

    • Pizza&IceCream says:

      Dan, you are presenting a re-warmed “teach the controversy” argument. Your position goes directly into Flying Spaghetti Monster territory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster). It’s unverifiable but because someone believes it, does the library has to cater to it?

      No.

      This poppycock is coming from the same group of scientists that say the jury is still out for the age of the Earth and that evolution is “just a theory”, but they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that homosexuality can be cured.

      Wrong.

      Libraries should not collect it. It’s not suppressing ideas; you can still go online to read websites that can tell you that fairy tale. You are welcome to your beliefs, but you cannot masquerade them around as scientific facts. This is about refusing to collect bad science.

    • @Pizza&IceCream, I simply pointed out that ex-gay books are routinely excluded as an example to what the AL was saying, and I even cited to her own writing on that topic.

      I see you have other interests. That’s nice, but it doesn’t need to be on AL’s blog. Contact me via email if you wish further off-topic discussion, but I know little about what you are saying that’s off-topic.

      It is interesting that your “Libraries should not collect it” statement sort of illustrates what the AL was saying.

      And now, Pizza&IceCream, your pseudonym has made me hungry.

  4. Rick says:

    “Better yet, since both of the Origins books are evidently false from the perspective of the young earth creationist, why aren’t they in the fiction section instead of the science section?”

    You stock books on UFOs and Ghosts dont you?

    Wicca?
    Buddhism?
    Shintoism?
    Islam?
    Books written by Hitler and the Communist Manifesto?

    Not a one of those books are in “fiction”. Many would never go there because the PC police would bring the hammer down on you even though all of those could just as easily be said to be just that.

    So as long as this book isnt deemed fiction by the author it can go in either the pseudo-science section with the UFO books, the Geology section, or with the Christian philosophy books. Pick one and dont worry about it beyond that.

    Or if it really is that much of a pain, then why did you even order the book?

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

    Maybe you should go ask them rather than rely on some snobby stereotype. Is this the type of stuff you assume of other groups you dont care for? Blacks? Homeless?

    Really disgusting that people that work in libraries actually hold vies like that.

    • Richard Allman says:

      Intelligent application of TRUTH in literature is not a democratic issue. If that were the case, well… I vote for a flat earth.

  5. Sarah says:

    AL, do you really think anyone outside of librarians know anything about what DDC or LCC actually means? No layman is going to attach the meaning we do to where the book is shelved in the system. Probably the most feeling they could muster would be to ask that something be moved between fiction and nonfiction. Whether a particular call number is a veiled insult to their belief system is probably way too subtly buried behind arbitrary numeral assignments for anyone who has never worked in a library to notice. Despite the obvious joke of the religion section being denoted by ‘BS’.

  6. Andrew says:

    Damnit! Am I going to have to weed all my books on dinosaurs? Again?? *sigh*

  7. I just found another person essentially saying what the AL is saying. See: http://twitter.com/nealmccluskey/status/255352906285477888

    Neal McCluskey
    ‏@NealMcCluskey
    Banned Books Week Highlights Deeper Problem | Daily Podcast
    October 5, 2012
    http://www.cato.org/multimedia/daily-podcast/banned-books-week-highlights-deeper-problem … via @CatoInstitute #bannedbooksweek

    • Way Barra says:

      I… I don’t think AL was “essentially saying” that because people are not in 100% agreement on what books they and their children should read, public libraries/schools “…violate the most basic of our rights” and, presumably, should be replaced by the loving invisible hand of the Holy Free Market.

    • @Way Barra, that’s not the point. Here’s the point:

      AL is essentially saying librarians get to call the tune communities dance to: “Librarians are supposedly ready to defend books against challenges, but are they ready to defend the order they’ve imposed on reality?”

      Neal McCluskey is essentially saying the same thing: “It is government favoring of speech – and compelling support of it – that is the root problem. It is not people who are members of the public and who pay taxes objecting to what is selected. Force them to pay and they have every right to object.”
      http://educationviews.org/an-interview-with-neal-mccluskey-banned-books-or-burned-books/

    • Way Barra says:

      Oh, I see now. If you ignore all the Libertarian boilerplate, the “privatize the shelves” bits, and the “…it (government) should get out of the business of running libraries and schools” sections, and just focus on the two or three sentences that seem to support Mr. Kleinman’s position, then yes, they are essentially saying the same thing.

      I stand corrected.

    • @Way Barra, I didn’t say that. You are putting words in my mouth then attacking me for what you said I said that I didn’t say.

      All I said was, “I just found another person essentially saying what the AL is saying.” Then I backed it up with quotes and citations after your first typically off topic comment that has become your sine qua non. That’s it. Troll elsewhere.

    • Way Barra says:

      No one said you said those things, Dan, but anyone who took five minutes to read the second interview you linked to would know that Neal McCluskey did.

      And try not to misinterpret constructive criticism for personal attacks. If you want to be taken seriously as a public/school library advocate, it might be best to avoid citing sources like the Cato Institute, which disapprove of the very idea of public libraries and schools.

    • @Way Barra said, “If you want to be taken seriously as a public/school library advocate, it might be best to avoid citing sources like the Cato Institute, which disapprove of the very idea of public libraries and schools.” Setting aside the ad hominem argument that I’m not “taken seriously,” apparently this free speech advocate advocates that free speech is acceptable (“taken seriously”) only if one constrains oneself to approved paths of thought. So I have the free speech I want as long as I think like … Way Barra.

      The Cato Institute man and the LJ’s AL both said that librarians set the playing field then complain when people don’t play nice. I am allowed to make that observation without being warned to avoid doing so because of an unrelated matter. Is there free speech if one is constrained to quote from only from politically approved sources?

      By the way, notice Way Barra just set the playing field of approved thought by saying, “it might be best to avoid citing sources like the Cato Institute” if I “want to be taken seriously as a public/school library advocate.” He/she is clearly not a free speech advocate.

    • Way Barra says:

      You’re overcomplicating the issue, Dan. It’s a simple matter of understanding your audience and tailoring your message accordingly.

      There’s nothing wrong, for example, with a linking a PETA representative’s comments on a National Beef Council blog, but one has to expect they would be received skeptically, at best.

  8. W. Benson says:

    It is instructive to see how major publishers classify their own books that ‘challenge’ Darwin. Stephen Meyer’s much acclaimed scientific defense of intelligent design creationism is published by HarperCollins in their Harper-One division. Harper’s website self-defines Harper-One as an imprint covering “The most important books across the full spectrum of religion, spirituality, and personal growth, adding to the wealth of the world’s wisdom by stirring the waters of reflection on the primary questions of life while respecting all traditions.” LOL. Harper has a popular science unit that publishes on topics from astronomy through molecular genetics, and has even reprinted one of Darwin’s books, but no intelligent design. Intelligent Design like its father Creationism is not science, although we may debate whether they better shelve in religion or fiction.

  9. The Librarian With No Name says:

    The only argument I can think of to placate this hypothetical patron is that YEC books are filed with the Christian books because they are scientific works based on a Christian worldview. If we refile those books with the rest of the science books, it will be difficult for the Christian researcher to tell whether a book is taking Genesis as its starting point or whether it was written by a godless secular strata Nazi. It seems like this will do the Christian community more good than harm.

    Despite the commonly accepted wisdom, most Americans are in favor of intellectual freedom, even if they feel like their own beliefs are being marginalized or overwhelmed by the mainstream. Very few book challenges are meant to keep adults from reading more or less anything they want, or completely removing items from public library shelves. Mostly, they’re interested in keeping children from accessing certain materials. Less often, they want the library to purchase more books supporting their beliefs to counterbalance the mainstream materials already on the shelf.

    As it stands, Christian library patrons have an entire section that amounts to a subset of the library collection tailored to their beliefs. You can send a student to the 200s to find books on science, sex ed, sociology, and a whole range of other topics, without having to worry about them picking up something pushing a secular anti-Christian agenda.

    If we start shifting creationist materials to the 500s, we’re starting down a slippery slope that could end with “The Choir Boy’s God-Given Guide to Keeping It In His Slacks” shelved right next to “The Joy of Married Gay Sex.”

    Won’t the hypothetical patron think of the children?

  10. Jackie says:

    I only wish librarians had so much power. The first step to access is actually having a copy of such book. Once that book is owned by the library, the primary classification could be supplemented with other subject headings to help users of differing thoughts locate the book, right?

  11. noutopianlibrarian says:

    Origins and Origin of species *both* belong in fiction. According to Michael Tellinger’s “Slave species of the Gods”, humans are leftover slaves from aliens who landed on earth 443,000 years ago (give a day or two). This enlightening work is classed as 599.938 by librarians so it must be true. It’s time to remove the blinders and reclaim the 97% of our DNA that has been too long neglected so we can take our true place among the gods.

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      If you’ve got a better explanation for why the FLYING SERPENT is the creator god in all mythologies, I would be happy to hear it.

  12. Richard Allman says:

    I pity the Christians. They think that without much sound and furry, their message will fade. It’s a reasonable fear because the rational world will eventually reduce them to a curious but ridiculous cult.
    The children need to know the truth about the reality of living in a real world and told that make believe fairy stories from a group of illiterate barely Iron Age nomads who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago is as make believe as Jack and the Beanstalk.

    • I Like Books says:

      Eh, the Conservative Christian Right is only a subset of Christianity, although people tend to think that they define and control it. The CCR thinks so, too.

      The Catholics, for one, have made their peace with evolution long ago. They have an uneasy alliance with the right because of other issues. But get into, say, Lutherans or Episcopalians, and you’re probably sitting farther to the left.

  13. Rima says:

    After I stopped laughing, I’d probably resign. Life’s too short…

  14. Mark says:

    I’m afraid I’d say, “here’s a microscope and some tweezers — if you find some science in it, we’ll consider reclassifying it.” Which is why it’s a good thing (I suppose) that I’m in the basement tending the machines, not behind the Circ. desk.

    Seriously, though, thanks for asking the question. It’s one that should be carefully considered.

    Maybe in the future (next Thursday?) when the stacks are closed and compressed, and robots fetch the books from cold dark underground vaults with nary a human in sight, we can give up classification systems as we know them and just serial-number the books. Invite people to tag the records themselves: 2 thought this was Science, 127 Religion, 1 Politics, and 7 Humor. Imagine being able to ask the catalog things like “show me books on paleontology that might be science but there is more than so much disagreement about that.”

  15. Nathan says: