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Wednesday, November 7 • 2:30pm - 3:10pm
Objectionable materials and the academic library

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The topic of the academic library’s obligation to purchase potentially objectionable materials for teaching and research has received little attention. This presentation opens debate on the issue that the study of some topics has the potential to offend the primary users of the academic library and the surrounding community. The presentation considers both philosophical and practical issues and makes a distinction between public and private colleges/universities.

Objectionable materials are sometimes important to meet valid teaching and research needs of both faculty and students. The first category includes primary sources needed to understand the topic but whose content the researcher/teacher opposes. Examples include Hitler’s Mein Kampf, hate speech, Holocaust denial, support for terrorism, and prostitution/sex trafficking studies. The second category includes topics that the researcher/teacher does not consider objectionable but that would offend some segments of the population. Examples include “deviant” sexual behavior, pornography, and erotic art and literature. LGBT topics in support of gender studies may fall into this category.

This session asks whether the academic library has the obligation to purchase and make available both types of potentially objectionable materials. The simple answer is that public universities and colleges have the same obligation to support faculty members and students who teach, study, or research controversial materials as it does for any other faculty and students. Not doing so on the basis of moral concerns violates the principle of the separation of church and states as embodied in the First Amendment. Any public policies need to be content neutral as long as the materials are legal. Private institutions may follow different rules.

The final reason for their availablility in all universities and colleges is academic freedom and, more importantly for librarians, the Library Bill of Rights, a core value of librarianship.

avatar for Bob Holley

Bob Holley

Professor Emeritus, School of Library & Information Science, Wayne State University
Professor Emeritus, Wayne State University School of Library & Information Science. Bob Holley has been actively involved in collection development since 1980 as an academic librarian, library science professor, and researcher. He was chief collection development officer at the University... Read More →