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Feminist books to be banned from University libraries....

(40 Posts)
busyboysmum Sun 29-Oct-17 22:09:03

Universities are considering the insertion of warnings into books and even moving some off open library shelves altogether to protect students from “dangerous” and “wrong” arguments.

The proposal could hit books by climate-change sceptics, feminists, eugenicists, creationists, theologians and Holocaust deniers. It will generate new controversy over free speech at British universities, where speakers have been “no-platformed” because of their views.

The move on books follows a campaign to restrict access to work by the historian David Irving, which has already resulted in some university libraries, including Churchill College, Cambridge, moving his books into closed storage. Others, such as University College London, have also labelled some of Irving’s books “Holocaust denial literature”, or shelved them with historiography rather than history.

Manchester has refused to removeIrving’s books from open display, arguing that making them available to students is a matter of free speech, which universities have a duty to uphold.

The director of library services at UCL, Paul Ayris, revealed the decision to move the Irving books was based on “contemporary thinking among librarians”. This included a study “of the sometimes complex ethical issues of library neutrality, in relation, for example, to climate-change denial, and questions of equality and diversity, as well as Holocaust denial”.

Ayris also referred to a campaign directed at Vancouver Women’s Library to ban 20 feminist titles including works by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon on the grounds they might offend transgender people and sex workers.

Academics said controversial titles included Nigel Lawson’s book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which hypothesised that the children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene have a claim to the throne of France, inspiring Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

The debate is being led by a group called the Radical Librarians Collective, which argues that pretending that libraries are “neutral” in the way they display books “maintains the status quo of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”.

busyboysmum Sun 29-Oct-17 22:09:53

Honestly I despair of how our country is going at the moment.

1984 is coming true.

stealtheatingtunnocks Sun 29-Oct-17 22:11:54


What has happened to students? I remember we were a gobby, bolshy lot who loved a good argument/march/debate.

MaisyPops Sun 29-Oct-17 22:14:27

It comes down to people deciding that free speech should be curbed to protect the sensitivities of the few.

I think holocaust deniers are racist lunatics, but I'll defend their right to have books on thr shelves so we can ridicule them and challenge them.

I'm not liking all this no platforming, moderate material stuff.

Smellybluecheese Sun 29-Oct-17 22:23:03

I’m an academic librarian. This is rubbish. Collection development policies are based on the teaching & research needs of the university & academics would be consulted before whole sections of collections were removed. Librarians don’t just decide based on not liking the content. They may be moved to offsite storage if there is low usage but can be recalled if required. In the profession, Paul Ayris does not have a great reputation, and the radical librarians are very much a minority and are not in charge of anything.

Lweji Sun 29-Oct-17 22:23:16


Of course there are dangers, but I'm failing to see the problem with this:
Others, such as University College London, have also labelled some of Irving’s books “Holocaust denial literature”, or shelved them with historiography rather than history.

He's been found in court to be a holocaust denier, and certainly not a historian. So, why would his books be shelved under history?

The same for creationist books. They can't be shelved under science, only barely under religion, as they don't follow scientific practice.

University libraries can't stock every single possible book, so they should stock the best, as judged by librarians or teachers. Why stock books that have got facts wrong?

It's a different issue for opinions. But really, the existence of the Holocaust or of evolution aren't really up for debate. Not without bad faith or lies.

annandale Sun 29-Oct-17 22:23:21

I've only read what you have posted, not the link, because I assume it's paywalled.

At first read, it seems exactly like the 'Christian child fostered by Muslims' story, and the one about Cambridge University being about to drop all white authors from its English course; tortuously written nonsense mixing up fringe 'campaigns' with approximately two supporters making 'calls for' all kinds of extremist shit so that they get exactly this type of publicity, with occasional facts, with lots of speculative whole cloth.

Why are allegedly serious newspapers publishing this utter shit? Because they are failing businesses (I sound like Trump) who get more attention and clicks with racist and antifeminist candy floss than with news.

Facts in that piece that I can tease out:
Churchill College lib has moved Irving's books into closed storage (no idea when, or what criteria are used to do this - maybe most books that aren't borrowed much get moved)
UCL lib has labelled Irving's books 'Holocaust denial literature'
Paul Ayris is the UCL librarian
ULC librarian has made a statement about reasons for moving Irving's books (hard to say where to, it doesn't actually say that UCL moved them, possibly it is one of the unspecified places that moved them into historiography)
The statement includes the truncated quote '“of the sometimes complex ethical issues of library neutrality, in relation, for example, to climate-change denial, and questions of equality and diversity, as well as Holocaust denial”
UCL librarian has also referred (in what words or terms we don't know) to a campaign (when and by whom we don't know, successful or unsuccessful we don't know) allegedly directed at Vancouver Women's Library to ban certain feminist titles in case they offend transgender people and sex workers.
Manchester lib has Irving's books on the open shelves.
There is an organisation called the Radical Librarians' Collective; how big or influential it is we don't know, and part of one statement they have made is quoted, without an author, a date or any other context.

And now you have posted it. Why? More clicks?

annandale Sun 29-Oct-17 22:25:23

Oh yes, and Paul Ayris's statement doesn't have a date on it either.

busyboysmum Sun 29-Oct-17 22:27:35

That's reassuring then. I have no knowledge of how university libraries are run but thought this was more of the same we've seen from University student unions no platforming feminists.

Glad to be reassured it's not.

BlackForestCake Sun 29-Oct-17 22:55:15

One of the people quoted says he was not speaking for Radical Librarians Collective anyway, and the ST misrepresented him:

annandale Sun 29-Oct-17 22:58:00

'Universities are considering the insertion of warnings...' which universities? Who is considering it? What does considering mean? Who supports this proposal? What meetings have discussed it? What would the warnings look like? What would they be intended to do?

'The proposal could hit...' yes it COULD hit anything, do you have any factual information about things it WOULD hit, or even - gasp - HAS hit?

'[The proposal] will generate new controversy' - how can you be so sure? Why do you think so?

'where speakers have been “no-platformed” because of their views' - how many times has this actually happened? They 'have been' - by whom? Isn't it usually student unions calling for no-platforming, which doesn't happen? Or am I wrong about that? Could you bear to actually INFORM me about this?

'The move on books' - hold on! Two paragraphs ago you said it was a proposal. What move? Nothing's happened yet?

'A campaign to restrict access to books by David Irving' - a campaign? By whom? When? What restrictions did the campaign call for? He's hardly news recently, though did this allow you to publish a fruity picture of Rachel Weisz starring in Denial?

'some university libraries including' - like which? how many? Also you may note that Churchill College Library is a college library, not a university library - still, why bother with a tiny differential like that, the rest of your piece is much more ambitiously shit than that.

Did churchill college say they'd moved his books into closed storage as a result of this nameless, dateless 'campaign"? Did you ask them about that, and did they go on the record confirming or denying it?

Did this alleged campaign cause UCL to label David Irving's books differently? Has this restricted access? Have you talked to a researcher or student who has had their access to his books restricted, or who reports that this labelling has materially damaged historical research?

Did Manchester really 'refuse' to move his books? Who asked or ordered them to, and when? Who refused? Manchester library made an argument about free speech when they refused to do so - did they? Who made that argument? Any chance of a quote? Is their view of free speech the only one?

'Academics said' - oh come on - which academics? All of them? When? And which academics, if asked to think of a controversial book, would come up with The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail? You might as well mention that 70s book called God was an Astronaut or whatever it was. If you really did ring up an academic and get those two books cited, I want to know which university they work at, so I can take it off the list for ds.

'The debate is being led' - From its website, I would guess that the Radical Librarians' Collective has approximately 100 actual members at the outside. Its Oxford branch meetings take place at a single pub table. It studiously avoids mentioning membership at any point, but has a lot of comments about 'more help being needed'. The article says that it is 'leading the debate' but fails to prove this by actually connecting the few words it quotes to anything the organisation has verifiably said, or any time, date or author.

HouseholdWords Mon 30-Oct-17 09:22:08

It's quite normal for libraries to note use & circulation of books. Books that are not borrowed regularly are sometimes moved to stacks, or deposit storage, and must be called up, rather than found on open shelves. This is an endemic problem in academic libraries.

There were attacks on the Vancouver Women's Library (quite threatening & potentially violent: see the YouTube evidence here: ) but these were from transactivists, including the man who shouts & tears up a poster. (At least from behaviour & "presentation" he seems like a man. Oops I've just committed literal violence there, haven't I? Bad bad Household, being so mean to the menz).

I've never seen any trigger warnings etc in books in all the libraries I've worked in - although I did once have to read a pamphlet at a special desk in the British Library where they could watch me, because in the course of my research (on something quite cultural & historical), I had unknowingly called up a pornographic trash novel from the 18th century. The title didn't suggest the content, is all I can say ...

Datun Mon 30-Oct-17 10:14:55


What were they watching you for? Were they worried you might need some smelling salts, or that you’d be overcome by lust?

Slimthistime Mon 30-Oct-17 10:24:30

the statement from UCL looks a lot different than the info presented in the article

HouseholdWords Mon 30-Oct-17 10:26:02

Datun who knows? I'm just a mild-mannered feminist. There's what's called the "Case Collection" - Rare Books pornography ...

HouseholdWords Mon 30-Oct-17 10:32:07

I think the real issue here is that there's a huge political move afoot, being run through "news" and Twitter, to destabilise and attack UK universities.

Politicians are experiencing a backlash from parents and young voters about fees & debt, and are trying to blame universities for the situation (I got blocked on Twitter by Andrew Adonis over the summer, for calling him out on his ridiculous ignorant statements about university fees and VC's salaries etc etc etc - the #blockedbyAndrewAdonis is a big club, he's a vair sensitive flower).

So there is a campaign to smear UK universities, insinuate that we're pro-Remainer propagandists (actually, we deal in facts and we know what the overwhelming facts are about Brexit's effect on UK universities); that we have bloated salaries; that there are admin staff just sitting around filing their nails; that we don't care about students & our indifference drives them to suicide; that we are "politically correct" vigilantes about de-colonising the curriculum & toppling statues; that we sexually harass our students.

And so on ...

It's very worrying. Particularly as UK universities are amongst the best in the world.

Datun Mon 30-Oct-17 11:07:24


Okay that’s interesting. My impression is that the no platforming at universities is buying into the culture of not being able to say anything for fear of offence. And the book thing is jumping on the bandwagon.

I realise that this could be very much a fringe element, though and used to derail.

I hadn’t heard too much about the sexual harassment, bloated salaries, indifference side, though. And I agree that our universities are still top-notch.

I can’t remember the exact details, but as far as I know, universities being rated on student satisfaction is part of the problem. As it grades the University, which then determines funding.

Therefore, students are the consumers, and the curriculum is the product. And the students get to influence the product.

Is that correct, or have I got it wrong?

HouseholdWords Mon 30-Oct-17 11:14:40

Here's an interesting blog re libraries:

Slimthistime Mon 30-Oct-17 14:59:23

a complaint made about the article
mentions the bizarre nature of conflating feminism and Holocaust denial*@SimonXIX*/an-open-letter-to-the-sunday-times-bf815f0c01d0

theendisnotnigh Mon 30-Oct-17 15:19:30

Having actually read that letter, what I find most worrying is his inclusion of "trans-exclusionary radical feminism, sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminism" alongside "creationism, flat Earth theory, and other texts that spread disinformation.
So he's not bigoted, judgemental, biased or anything. He KNOWS. Our literature and ideas are safe in his hands as he knows precisely where gender critical feminists are to be placed.
The irony that he is complaining that his ideas have been represented.
I don't think that they have been exposed enough if that is his take on feminism.

theendisnotnigh Mon 30-Oct-17 15:21:32

The irony is that he is complaining that his ideas have been misrepresented

theendisnotnigh Mon 30-Oct-17 16:49:17

Hmm. I'm still completely shock at his open letter of complaint to the Times that slimthistime posted. t
Are there more librarians/ academics who would file gender critical feminist writings alongside flat earthers??

DJBaggySmalls Mon 30-Oct-17 17:17:33

There must be as womens studies have been taken over and turned into, among other things, gender studies.

HouseholdWords Mon 30-Oct-17 17:46:11

I don't think he's saying exactly that, but he's saying it as an example of how a "Radical" librarian might start to categorise knowledge. It's meant as an analogy - but a bad one - to re-classifying David Irving from History to HIstoriography (ie from a record of past events to a book about how we write history/theories f history).

The TERF/SWERF stuff is a bad example, but typical of men who think they're more radicaler than thou I say, put them on the table and measure them

But the overall point made in the rather more literate & coherent WonkHE blog is that all ordering/classification of knowledge is ideological. Cue Derrida and Foucault and archive fever ....

theendisnotnigh Mon 30-Oct-17 18:12:36

His precise words are:
I argue that the same kind of recataloguing and reclassification can be done in the case of texts that advocate climate change denial, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminism, creationism, flat Earth theory, and other texts that spread disinformation
His words seem to me to leave no doubt He defines 'trans-exclusionary feminism and sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminism' as 'texts that spread disinformation'.
This librarian is defining feminist texts in this way - and seeing himself and his colleagues as having the power to reclassify feminist works as disinformation. The sheer ignorance, the lack of insight, not to mention the arrogance and misogyny .....

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