Posted by: paulgarner | May 16, 2012

Creationist books in UK public libraries

MacDonald and McMenemy (2012) report a survey of 68 UK public library authorities designed to find out whether creationist or intelligent design (ID) materials have been donated to them and, if so, how the books have been catalogued.

The authors set the scene with a brief introduction to the origins debate. They contrast creationists with “those advocating rational scientific theories, such as natural selection”. Hands up if you’re a creationist who also accepts “natural selection”. Yeah, me too. I don’t imagine that the theistic evolutionists will be wildly happy at being lumped in as a subset of “old-Earth creationism” either. But quibbles aside, the results of the survey are actually quite interesting.

The response rate was 96% (65 of 68). Most authorities (75%) reported no donations of creationist books or materials. That was surprising to me; I thought the level of donations would be higher than that. Of the donations that had been received, most were from a Christian viewpoint although several libraries reported receiving copies of the Islamic Atlas of Creation (and which has been put to such ingenious use in the past).

But what surprised me most was the number of authorities reporting that they had purchased creationist or ID materials themselves. All the library authorities in Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and Wales reported making such purchases, as well as at least 50% of the library authorities in the other regions.

Perhaps less surprising was the fact that there was a lot of variability in how these materials were being catalogued. Creationist books were classified as religion by 51% of authorities and as either science or religion (depending on the item) by 42% of authorities. One authority classified creationist books as science and a small number (6%) had or gave no information on how they classified these books.

Intelligent design books were classified as either science or religion (depending on the item) by 43% of authorities, as religion by 34% and as science by 18%. One catalogued ID materials under social science and two had no information on how they had been classified.

MacDonald and McMenemy suggest that library authorities should be more consistent in how they classify this “controversial material”, but I wonder whether the diversity of the material is at least partly responsible.

Reference

MacDonald A. and McMenemy D. 2012. Availability and organisation of creationist literature in UK public libraries. New Library World 113(3/4):107-117.

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