Rearranging the books, officially

We all know what online petitions are worth, but this is at least a worthy cause: some graduate students have a Petition by Informed Citizens to reclassify non-science books from science categories. The goal is to persuade the Library of Congress to reclassify books about intelligent design creationism into something other than science.


  1. fardels bear says

    I realize that the LoC has a list of “official” subjects that they make available to libraries, publishers, etc. However, I don’t think the actual cataloging is done by the LoC itself, rather libraries and/or publishers decide what classifications to use from the list provided by the LoC. If this is right, then such a petition won’t accomplish much since ID publishers will go right on using the “science” classifications.

    I might be completely wrong about this, in which case I’m happy to be corrected by someone who knows more about it. If the LoC does indeed assign subject headings to particular publications, then this petition makes sense.

  2. AlanWCan says

    Can’t we just stack them all up in the otherwise empty shelves of the George W Bush presidential library? Really, where’s the harm? (a) He’ll never read them anyway and (b) they couldn’t possibly make him any dumberererer. And that way they’re not left befouling anywhere that someone who can actually read might trip over them. Problem solved.

  3. Tom Buckner says

    Maybe they could call it the “Truthiness” section. They could use negative numbers in the Truthiness section, so that CREaTIoNISM would be in the -500’s (False Science), Scientology and other False Religion and Philosophy would be the -100’s, the swift boat book would go in -900’s (False History), the Bell Curve in the -300’s (False Social Science), and so on. Now, should the Bible be under Fiction or False Fiction???

  4. Moses says

    Now, should the Bible be under Fiction or False Fiction???

    False fiction as it purports to be truthful.

  5. CalGeorge says

    The SH is:

    Intelligent design (Teleology)

    I’m seeing lots of these books in the religion class in LC’s catalog.

    Behe’s book is in QH (because it’s about Darwinism.

    Dembski’s Signs of intelligence : understanding intelligent design is in BL. Lots of other stuff in BL.

    The catalogers know what they are doing.

  6. Will Davies says

    Fair enough, this petition; but can we please be consistent? Whenever I go into my local branch of Waterstone’s I’m always a bit miffed to see books like Francis Collins’ “The Language of God” and Dawkins’ God Delusion squatting in the science section.
    Yes, they’re both by scientists, but I really think they belong in Religion/Philosophy rather than Science.

  7. K. Engels says

    fardels bear, The Library of Congress does assign call numbers to books (they actually completely catalog the book before it is published and the MARC record is available for libraries to use for ‘copy cataloging’), but that is separate from the publishers’ subject headings (the things you often see on the back of books). The LOC could assign religion numbers to a book, let’s say The Magical Invisible Sky Fairy Intelligently Designs the Universe, and that wouldn’t stop a publisher or a bookstore from assigning their own subject headings. Plus, any library cataloger who wishes to could assign a different call number and place the book in a different section. (This is something that is all too common at my local public library. Their biases are way too obvious.)

  8. fardels bear says

    K. Engels: Thanks for the clarification on this.

    I’ve seen what you describe regarding LC call numbers. I’ve run into this at university libraries, the Biomed library has a book under a different LC number than the Science library. And the Humanities library might have yet another number.

    So, are the subject listings in MARC record assigned by the LoC or the publisher? I guess that is what I’m wondering about.

  9. arachnophilia says

    i’d also like to point out that dawkin’s “god delusion” is not in science, Q-something. it’s in the B’s, which is where religious texts and commentaries go. that would probably be a good place to put the ID stuff — next to religion.

  10. brandon says

    The LOC is a beast. Shooting it will only piss it off. And, as a profession, librarians are pretty adverse to being moved by outside forces. The best approach would be to get a bunch of Health and Science librarians to sign on and pressure their peers who work on the LOC Classification system during innumerable workshops. It really doesn’t violate ALA ethics, because you wouldn’t be censoring the material. On top of that, in my experience, alot of non-academic libraries still use Dewey, and Dewey tends to shift the creationist/anti-darwinist crap out of the 500s and into the 300s, the realm of the sociological and political harangue. So the problem (other than owning this crap in the first place) might not be as bad as it seems. And, pardon my french, but if a f’cking Academic library is stocking this shit, there’s really no helping that lot. Those people are lost.

    Really the only moral thing to do outside of bookstores, where moving items is a futile action as most of the shelves are read on a daily or almost daily basis, is to rearrange them in a radically different location of the library: push them behind the books – toss them up on top of the shelves – mingle them in the stacks. A radically misplaced book is, essentially, a lost book, and eventually, in those once every couple of years events, a weeded book. On top of that, most places won’t keep replacing lost fake-science books. One, they’re loath in the first place to purchase science books (Public behavior signals that they don’t want them, they want Oprah’s picks, books those damn liberal teachers make their kids read, books that’ll teach them how to get reach, books that’ll teach them how not to be fat, and books about Jesus) the other criteria is age, just as older science books aren’t usually purchased new or replaced, as the information is deemed outdated, all the moreso for older fake-science books. If “Darwin’s Black Box” or “The Incredible Benevolent Engineer Who Made the Dinosaurs, Who Could Be Jesus But Certainly Wasn’t Allah or Zeus” disappears enough times, it’s not going to get re-purchased

    I’ve done the same with scientology books. Including tucking in printouts from Operation Clambake. It violates a slew of ethical standards. But some of the scientological books printed by their brain-laundrying ventures are nothing but absolute bile-filled defamation and whole-cloth disinformation, propaganda, that, by encouraging certain behaviors, can actually harm people. Kind of like AIDS-HIV denialist tracts from the 90s. Or those bizarre Cancer books that declaim that fungus/vitamin C/Herpes causes cancer. Although I won’t stamp on their right to scribble this crap. It has no right being in public institutions where irremediable harm can result.

    Still, despite the hazy ethics, it’s the moral thing to do. That is, if you value preserving the mental health of your community. If you hate people, science, and achievement then it’s a dastardly, horrible thing to do.

    In encourage anyone reading this to enjoin themselves of these acts of vandalism. If you have any qualms, remember, It’s for the children! Won’t anyone think of the children?

  11. K. Engels says

    fardels bear,

    Subject listings in the MARC record are assigned by the LoC (or more accurately, by whichever library does the original cataloging.)

    The God Delusion was assigned the following subjects by the LoC:

    1. Irreligion
    2. Atheism
    3. God
    4. Religion

    Right now The God Delusion is the #1 book on Amazon in the category: Books > Science > History & Philosophy > History of Science
    Which obviously means that according the it falls under that subject in order for it to be the #1 item on the subject, even though that subject heading doesn’t match up with any of the subjects assigned by the LoC. (And I’m not even sure if that is really an accurate subject heading for the book in the first place!)

  12. Anglagard says

    I am the dean and primary cataloger for two of three branches of a junior college library system which use the Dewey system. At the main library, we have four YEC/ID books, “Creation’s Tiny Mystery,” “Darwin’s Black Box,” “Of Pandas and People,” and some book by Morris in the 500’s which is broadly categorized as science.

    I have several reasons for this placement. One is convention, as I believe the location of any given title should be common between libraries using the the same cataloging system. A second reason is that I want these titles to be right next to the works of Darwin, Gould, etc. so that they are easily found. I would not worry about the placement of a particular shoddy work in any given section as to mean an endorsement to any thinking person, as the poor quality of content and poor scholarship speaks for itself.

    After all other books we have such as on witchcraft, astrology, and Edgar Cayce are in the 130’s, in occult pseudoscience right between general works on philosophy and psychology. “Mein Kampf” is in German history and “The Turner Diaries” are in fiction. Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Collins’ “The Language of God” are under general works on religion, at the beginning of the 200s.

    My own philosophy of librarianship is to make such books easy to find, not to censor, bury, or segregate such works. I feel that one of the best antidotes to the believers of such false doctrines as YEC/IDism is exposure to critical analysis, and subsequent exposure to ridicule.

  13. says

    As someone who relies heavily on university libraries for his regular education and self-education, I second the college librarian. Among other things, it’s convenient to be able to find books arguing both sides of an issue in the same area. This helps skeptics at times: James Randi’s books are right next to the pro-parapsychology ones, and Ed Babinski’s apostates anthology even gets placed under “sacraments”! Trust me, the librarians know what they’re doing.

  14. Ann says

    Brandon, your distinction between ethics and morals seems hazy at best, and it’s horrifying to read your justification for what amounts to a secret book-burning. It is not your place to “protect” anyone from the opinions of others, no matter how ridiculous or harmful you might believe those opinions to be.

  15. says

    Ann, so you don’t have any problem with explicit hatespeech, the barring of constitutional rights, or deceptions or lies?

    “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” – Dawkins

    To not be upset at the proselyting of such deceptions is perhaps even worse than being part of such proselyting.

  16. Skeptic8 says

    Anglagard (#15) has it right!
    Let it all hang out in the library; USA librarians have have a history of standing fast against the tides of book-burners who would ghettoize information for political reasons. Books don’t run out of juice when a civilization is overwhelmed. They stay around to build anew.

  17. Brandon says

    It’s not that hard. We are morally bound as responsible humans beings to try and prevent harm when we can. We are ethically bound by our various and sundry professions to follow the – usually corporately determined – established rules of behavior, the ethics. One has – mostly – organic origins, the other is, well, manufactured by committee, so, you know, I wouldn’t call the Ford Edsel a bad car for its time, but it sure didn’t sell well.

    Anyway, some recent cases might illuminate dark glasses. A, we’ll call her, Katrina-doctor, was recently acquited of numerous murder charges after it was charged that she probably euthanized a number of the patients, many of which, as best she could tell were in excruciating pain with little hope of rescue. What she did was completely and utterly unethical. Most normal human beings, however, and most importantly a jury of her peers judged what she did to be moral, thus the acquital (or maybe it was a statement on the part of the jury about A.G. Foti and his hint of Nifong witch-hunt for justice) On the other hand, a couple was also recently acquited of several dozen charges of murder in the first degree, after they didn’t evacuate a nursing home causing most of the residents to die in Katrina’s storm surge. They claimed ignorance and negligence by the U.S. Government had caused the deaths. They also used the fact that a certain type of evacuation order had not been given; that particular plans for evacuation were not in place, etc. and so forth, they didn’t know, it’s not their fault, Dubya did it! In short, they fulfilled the ethics. They ought to rot in prison for the morally outrageous crime they perpetrated.

    Anyway, have you actually read any of this trash? Science is one of the few places in a public library – in the 500s and the 600s, science and health respectively – where this these deliberate falsehoods, this sophistical codswallop do not belong. Should we stock books asserting strongly the existence of an ether? Lamarckian heredity? Monographs on the uselessness of the golgi bodies? The point, after all is to select and provide _good_ information, i.e. information that is useful, information that is current, information that is, to the best of our knowledge truthful – especially when it’s presented in an area that affects a semblance of “yar, here be facts”.

    Getting back to the health section – where straight-laced texts on how to manage your medications, cope with depression, understand your renal disease, etc., back up to texts written by quacks and madmen alleging that vitamins can cure your cancer, that AIDs is merely the body presenting stress caused by the demands of anal sex, or that Hitler invented morphine and ritalin to enslave blacks, and psychiatry is just a cabal of rich Jews, or whatever nonsense it is that the scientologists hustle, you reach a point where the black and white ethics of “presenting a broad range of viewpoints” break down.

    It’s true that it’s highly unlikely that someone might happen to pick up one of volumes of claptrap, follow the prescribed lunacy to a T, and then die from their own stupidity. But it’s not that far-fetched. Many people, especially the less educated – who are often the more likely to use public libraries for health information (go figure) are immersed in this idea that woo medicine is real and respected. More than a handful of people trounce in because they don’t trust their doctors for whatever reason, and begin reading Dr. Feldspar’s Mineral Approach to Defying Melanoma, only to disappear sight unseen. No Medline, No Health Journals, just some division of Random House’s attempt to capitalize on a fad. And that, plainly, is wrong.

    It’s the equivalent of including in your idea of the perfectly brewed cup of coffee, a pinch of shit, to enjoy the full spectrum of flavor. (And yes I’ve heard of Kopi Luwak).

    But that, again, is the difference between ethics and morals. Ethics is concerned with legalisms. Morality attends to right and wrong. In our contractual society, legalism’s going to win out nine times out of ten. If a little civil disobediance, a little unprofessionalism, sidesteps decorum to deny legalistic reasoning a perfect score, and help reduce the human misery index even fractionally, well then, I’m not going to lose too much sleep over your pretty baseless accusations of my wrongheaded bookburning haziness.

  18. JohnnieCanuck, FCD says

    The problem is that ALL the censors and book burners feel that what they are doing is for the good of society. Some might even use the argument that the ends justify the means.

    The religious types are always trying to protect us from moral corruption, by their lights.

    What if they start hiding evolution texts, etc.? Don’t forget there are more of them than us, and an awful lot of them are fanatical once someone winds them up.

  19. Joe says

    I agree with JohnnieCanuck, FCD, in fact, creationists here are hiding science texts. Creationism’s Trojan Horse by Forrest and Gross is “missing” at the local university.

    An additional consideration is that scientists need access to Behe’s book in order to know exactly what he says that is wrong.

  20. Flex says


    You make a lot of claims about the behavior of library patrons. Do you have any data to back this up?

    I’m as agast at the amount of irrationality being promoted as knowledge as the next fellow (possibly more so than the next fellow). It would be nice to be able to say, generally, that this book belongs in the science section while this one belongs in pseudoscience.

    However, choosing classifications is difficult. Look at the various libraries your friends have; every one of them is organized differently. (Well, I at least don’t personally use LoC or Dewey.)

    Libraries built by an individual are tools constructed by that individual for specific searches through human knowledge. For example, my father is building a library with a decided focus on Michigan pioneer history because he is researching that area right now. The few hundred books, many original texts, is probably one of maybe a dozen or so libraries dedicated to that particular period of Michigan history.

    Libraries built for the general public to use are like a swiss army knife, and they have the same problems a swiss army knife does. A swiss army knife has a multitude of tools, but each tool doesn’t quite perform as well as a stand-alone version of the same tool. This doesn’t mean the tool isn’t useful, but, for example; the saw doesn’t cut as well as a dedicated saw does, and the can opener doesn’t operate as easily as a dedicated can opener does.

    Librarians have done a tremendous job just classifying the books as well as they have. Most books do not fit into a single classification. I have dozens of books which are not grouped in the ‘suggested’ catagory in my library, mainly because I reorganize my library regularly as the nature of my studies refocuses on a different area of knowledge. For example, I’ve moved Montaigne from sociology to psychology, to semiotics, to law, and now that I’m back in school he sits on my light-reading-during-a-20-minute-break shelf. Mind you, I love his style so he’s a bit of an exception, but as I adjust my library to meet my needs books move around.

    Public libraries can’t do that. They have to remain set at a soft focus on all areas of knowledge. Even if some of that knowledge is demonstratably untrue. I don’t like it, but the consequences of removing even the untrue knowledge is to make the library an even less useful tool than it is today.

    Reclassifying the knowledge I’m fine with. Removing it altogether reduces the usefulness of the tool and should be avoided.

  21. negentropyeater says

    Gee, Americans will never stop to surprise me…

    Why not also mandate by law that on every creationist book be put a big red sticker :

    Notice from the NSA, reading it can seriously damage your reasoning abilities.

    Honestly, I dispise creationism but this kind of proposition is just going to make things worse. Good luck America…

  22. Joe says

    Several people have cited LoC call letters of various topics. I don’t know if anyone pointed out the call letters for the bible are “BS.”

  23. jim a says

    Just to clarify one point, there is not a one to one correspondence between the subject headings in the MARC record and the classification that the call number is based upon. This is because a book will have ONE call # but may have multiple subject headings. A book on New England, for instance will physically be in one location, but could be assigned seprate subject headings for each state. Libraries that use Dewy call #susually use LC subject headings, except possibly for special collections. Medical libraries tend to use MESH headings etc. And of course, bookstores usually use a much broader system of classification for shelving THEIR books.

  24. Suze says

    You can always just check the books out. It gets them out of the system for a while, anyway. I’m not really into censoring in any case. That’s a little too Christian for my taste, reminds me of the banning of books other than the bible, or any other “worldly” material such as TV or secular music, that my Pentecostal Holiness relatives have going on. Our job is to make our material more compelling and accessible to the deluded, too tempting to ignore, not to prevent them from reading whatever the hell they want.

  25. fardels bear says

    Thanks to the folks on this thread who taught me something about library science. You do good work.

  26. Comstock says

    Wouldn’t this energy be better spent improving the collections, funds, activities, etc., at local libraries? Who cares if Pandas and People is on the science shelf if the library isn’t open enough hours for people to spend time there?

  27. CJO says

    The Library of Congress does assign call numbers to books (they actually completely catalog the book before it is published and the MARC record is available for libraries to use for ‘copy cataloging’)

    Well, they do if someone at the publisher has the time and the inclination to file a Cataloging in Publication (CIP) Application with the LoC… hmmm, I’m posting a comment to PZ’s blog. At work. Guess I have a little time.

    *files a CIP application*

  28. Eric says

    I don’t know exactly how the process works, but I’m wary of changing classifications based on how many people say they should. If we can get a bunch of people to have their stuff moved into the religion section, can’t they get a bunch of people together to get real science moved somewhere else too?

    And I agree with Ann as well – I’m not seeing how stealing the books enough times that library doesn’t want to carry them is morally acceptable. That kind of effort depends not on who’s right, but on who can be the biggest jerk. “If we can be a big enough jerk, the library won’t want to carry their books anymore!” Well, great, until they do it to us. You say it’s morally okay to do it to theirs, but they’ll think it’s morally okay to do it to the real science too. I don’t necessarily have a better idea, but I just don’t see how that’s effective or moral.

  29. says

    I like this idea better than reshelving. While I love the idea behind reshelving, you’re creating work for underpaid librarians and bookstore employees.

    What category should creationist crap go under? So many possibilities! Occult, humor, fantasy, religion…

  30. rob says

    Shouldn’t books critical of science be in the science section, the same way atheist books are found in the religion section?

  31. Ann says

    Caucasian Jesus said:

    “Ann, so you don’t have any problem with explicit hatespeech, the barring of constitutional rights, or deceptions or lies?”

    Ahh, right. That’s EXACTLY what I said. No, wait, I said “It’s not your place to protect anyone from the opinions of others.”

    Philosophers much more eloquent than I have extolled the virtues of the marketplace of ideas. And as others here have noted, “who can hide the most books” is hardly a useful game.

    “Barring of constitutional rights” indeed. Would it be possible for you to draw a MORE ludicrous conclusion from my statement? Wait, that’s a rhetorical question. I have no doubt that you can.

  32. JJR says

    As a currently unemployed Librarian, thank you PZ for posting this interesting thread. LoC is doing a lot of troubling things of late (abandoning series authority records, etc). It does sometimes pay to ask why…my librarian hero Sanford Berman did…see his book:

    _Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the Lc Subject Heads Concerning People_ (Paperback)
    by Sanford Berman (Author)
    # Paperback: 229 pages
    # Publisher: McFarland & Company; 1993 ed edition (February 1993)
    # Language: English
    # ISBN-10: 0899508286
    # ISBN-13: 978-0899508283
    # Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches

    Also, in a related vein, Librarian Earl Lee has an interesting chapter on the classification (and mis-classification) of Freethought books in libraries in his collection of essays titled

    Libraries in the Age of Mediocrity (Paperback)
    by Earl Lee (Author)
    # Paperback: 151 pages
    # Publisher: McFarland & Company (March 2001)
    # Language: English
    # ISBN-10: 0786405481
    # ISBN-13: 978-0786405480
    # Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.4 inches

    Mis-shelving books deliberately so they can’t be found is malicious. Happens often enough when I’m seeking out good atheist material…catalog says it’s there, but go to the shelf location and…nada. Evil.

    LoC is also, distressingly, moving away from being the de facto national library, moving away from being a reliable source of bibliographic records supporting copy-cataloging at other institutions nationwide. It has a lot of librarians worried.

    And don’t even get me started about that NY Times story about the library abandoning Dewey Decimal Classification altogether!! GRRR!!