A startling bit of news came out of Bard College recently. The library newsletter announced, proudly, one assumes: “In keeping with campus-wide initiatives to ensure that Bard is a place of inclusion, equity, and diversity, the Stevenson Library is conducting a diversity audit of the entire print collection in an effort to begin the process of decanonizing the stacks. Three students, who are funded through the Office of Inclusive Excellence, have begun the process which we expect will take at least a year to complete. The students will be evaluating each book for representations of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and ability.”

Bard quickly stepped back in the face of sharp public criticism. The chief librarian assured all that no books would actually be removed. But, she explained, the exercise “will help us understand and answer questions about representation in our collections and build a more inclusive collection going forward.” How odd, that a librarian would consider her collection as less than inclusive. Had she been intentionally building a collection based on exclusion? She is certainly suggesting that in the future Bard will not be putting on the shelves books whose ideas or authors they find objectionable.

We should ponder what Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in Whitney v. California (1927): “If there be time to expose the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Removing books from the stacks or not buying books expressing difficult ideas is “enforced silence.”

The Lloyd Sealy Library will not be “decanonizing” our collection. Indeed, that concept is antithetical to our core mission. It also violates the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, a document adopted in 1939 as the rise of totalitarianism threatened liberal society. The first two articles are germane here.

Article I: Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

Article II: Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Those principles guide our collection development policies and practices. Yes, we are constantly weeding our collection to make way for new volumes, but we do not remove any books because we find the ideas or the author objectionable. Really, it is my hope that everyone finds something in our collection they find objectionable. At the same time, we do our best to respond to requests that we acquire a particular volume, for that, too, is part of our core mission – supporting the educational and research needs of faculty and students.

Delivering a commencement address at Dartmouth College in June 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower implored his audience, “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”

Amen to that.

Jeffrey Kroessler, Interim Chief Librarian

Read more from the Spring 2022 issue of Classified Information, the Library's newsletter