Mixed Martial Arts Librarianship: Good Sense or Censorship?

My friend Steve Lawson made an interesting discovery the other day as he did the kind of research one naturally does when working as a librarian at a liberal arts college.

April 7, 2011

My friend Steve Lawson made an interesting discovery the other day as he did the kind of research one naturally does when working as a librarian at a liberal arts college. (It took me a while to realize why I was drawn to this profession and this kind of institution: one's research agenda is pretty much "anything and everything." Basically, it's like being an undergraduate forever, but without the tight deadlines.) Anyway, he happens to be researching mixed martial arts fighting and, when using one of his library's databases, he turned up a full-text article from a publication titled American Renaissance. This was a bit startling, because it's a journal published by an unabashedly white supremacist organization. At their website, they argue that the survival of the West depends on "race realism," which (to go by the contents of the site) means opposing immigration, resisting multiculturalism, and outing those whose beliefs threaten white domination in the United States. To quote from their site, "it is entirely normal for whites (or for people of any other race) to want to be the majority race in their own homeland. If whites permit themselves to become a minority population, they will lose their civilization, their heritage, and even their existence as a distinct people. All other groups take it for granted that they have a right to speak out in their own interests. Only whites have lost this conviction."Also, "one of the most destructive myths of modern times is that people of all races have the same average intelligence."

Okaaaay. That's enough to demonstrate where they are coming from. You can get their arguments in support of their positions right from their website. Or, if you happen to subscribe to EBSCO's Academic Search Complete, you can get them from your library.

And here's the moral dilemma. Within the limits of their resources, libraries support access to as wide a range of opinions as possible. Yet they are also regarded as institutions that serve in some sense as gatekeepers. Though researchers need to make critical evaluation of all sources, including those in libraries, librarians and the communities they serve do some screening so that the materials found in the library are not too misleading, too biased, too .... what's the word I'm looking for? Hateful.

Steve raises interesting questions in his post. My response is that I don't want my library's budget or public dollars going to support this racist organization, which we do in two ways when their articles appear in a library database. First, we pay money for those databases, and that money is shared between the vendor of the database and the publishers. Second, it provides these publications cover. These articles, which are much more easily identified in context at their website, are mixed into search results that all look sort of the same. Yes, we need to teach students the skills of evaluation, but a naive student is going to be more easily fooled when they get the article from the library.

I have previously raised questions like this with EBSCO--questioning the inclusion of Mankind Quarterly, a journal with a dodgy past and some questionable editorial practices (and one that, incidentally, is cited heavily in The Bell Curve - and have found them very thoughtful and responsive. This is what Sam Brooks, a VP at EBSCO wrote to me while in the midst of business travel made extra taxing due to the nasty storms this week.

"EBSCO’s goal is to provide content that is applicable to an academic research environment. We study both the needs of our customers as well as the specific content sources available for possible inclusion in our databases. We do this in a number of ways from ranking studies and subscription information, to breaking down university programs and syllabi and researching available publications to support these courses of study. We do not let our opinions on the content of a publication affect our decision for inclusion, but rather if it can be of value if studied or as a valid source of reference during the research process. Of course some are more obvious than others. For instance, in studies of human behavior and related areas, these publications may help to provide insight to the researcher, not in the way a peer-reviewed journal may provide definitive research, but more from a practical approach to studying a sub-culture, behavior, racism, hate crimes, and other oft-studied portions of the programs offered in both 2 and 4 year academics. As is the case with all publications, we continue to monitor each on an on-going basis, and may decide it is best to remove a publication like this, as we have done with similar publications. In the case of Mankind Quarterly, we specifically asked our advisory board for input on this title, and subsequently decided to remove it from our databases. We will now undergo the same process for this publication, and make our decision based on their feedback. In addition, as is the case with any publication in our databases, a library may elect to not expose its content to users by enacting a title exclusion feature in EBSCOadmin. In the end, we feel this is the best way to handle such cases where there may be a difference of opinion in the use of a publication – let each library decide for itself whether to activate a given title. Even in the blog comments over this specific title, there was a difference of opinion as to whether it should be included in the database."

What do you think? In a sense it's academic for me--we don't have Academic Search Complete available at my library--but should libraries buy a package deal that includes titles like this one? Is turning off individual titles that bother people like me the best approach? Would you call that censorship? Or is it irresponsible to spend money on this kind of publication and let it slip into the library undetected?


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