‘Decanonizing the stacks’
The library at Bard College is undergoing a “diversity audit” to evaluate how well it represents race, ethnicity, gender and religion.
“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,” a recent announcement from the Bard College library newsletter stated.
“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.”
College leaders insist they will not blackball any books. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The point of the audit at Bard originally appeared to be picking books to remove. The announcement in Notes, the library’s newsletter, described the project as a first step in “the process of decanonizing the stacks”—academic jargon for breaking the connection to the past. A follow-up from the staff seemed to suggest that the eventual aim is a major deaccessioning (to use a librarians’ term: litotes for getting rid of books).
A representative of the library, however, later said in an email that was forwarded to me that the project was designed “to increase our understanding of our collection, not to remove books.”
This leaves unspecified the reason the information is being gathered in the first place, but the librarian waved away the students funded by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, stating that actual librarians will decide about the library’s collections, not student workers.
The audit has drawn criticism from some observers, including Bard College alumnus Robert Weissberg at Minding the Campus:
Culling “bad” books from libraries is as old as libraries themselves, so Bard’s textual purge is hardly novel. It’s all a question of whose books get removed and how the cleansing is justified. Still, acknowledging this history hardly excuses outbreaks of censorship, and proponents of intellectual openness should at least monitor those rooting out alleged evil. One can only wonder how three undergraduates—Bard’s little Torquemadas—can digest hundreds of thousands of books on subjects well beyond their intellectual expertise.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Bard College is not the first to face such an audit:
In 2018 Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles undertook a similar project, concluding that the school’s William H. Hannon Library had an insufficient number of works in “the categories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender LGBTQ+, Women’s Studies, and Disability.” In 2020 the University of California Irvine audited nearly a decade of orders, by the school’s Langson Library and other collections on campus, for new scripts of plays. The audit concluded that the school needed its purchases to shift “to reflect the increased demand for diverse playwrights.”
College libraries of late have taken other steps to sanitize.
In 2018, CU Boulder added several immigration subject headings to its library database, cataloguing immigrant-related material under titles like “noncitizens” and “undocumented immigrants” so that students might avoid search terms like “illegal aliens.”
In 2020, the University of Oregon covered up murals depicting Native Americans.
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