This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 17, 1997

December 17, 1997 - Cults and New Faiths

I recently received a written complaint about a book called Cults and New Faiths. Published in 1981, it was written by one John Butterworth, editor of a newspaper in Northern England.

For the very first time since I have received such a complaint, I am going to remove the book from our collection. Let me tell you why.

The nature of the complaint was that the information in the book about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was incorrect. The book labeled Mormonism a "cult" and cast aspersions on both its origins and its theology. Also branded cults were Christian Science, Eckankar, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, and others. The term "cult" was never defined. The "new faiths" (also undefined) included Bahai'i, Freemasonry, Rastafarianism, and Transcendental Meditation!

In my formal response, I said that the issue was not whether the views of the author are true. The way I see it, most of what's in print these days is slanted in one direction or another. But the public library is in the business of collecting books, largely the offerings of mainstream publishing houses; it is not in the business of either editing those books or endorsing their contents. We do try, however, to achieve some balance in our coverage of various issues.

An example is the topic of abortion. Some support a woman's right to choose. Others believe that abortion is murder. Hence there are books both for and against abortion, both of which may be found in our collection. The same situation exists for a host of sometimes controversial topics: environmentalism, homosexuality, welfare, evolution, and on and on. In other words, our materials reflect some of the views and biases of the authors now writing on the subjects. The library has neither the means nor the wisdom to "correct" those views. Again, the mission of the public library is not to decide who is right. We reflect the views of our culture, and provide a place for members of the public to examine those views, and make up their own minds.

In the area of religion, it is even more difficult to get at the "truth." Butterworth, an English newspaper editor, holds up various faiths to his own yardstick -- some form of Christianity, although he never says which denomination. According to that yardstick, every other faith is found wanting. Such a view might be extremely offensive not only to Christian Scientists and Mormons, but also to the Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim reader.

But just because a view is offensive doesn't mean that it's wrong. It doesn't mean that it's right, either. It is simply the viewpoint of the author, whose name appears right there on the cover, and whose statements can be considered, further investigated, adopted in whole or in part, or utterly rejected.

So I do not believe the book should be removed on the basis of its content, however superficial. (And it is superficial. Most faiths get two-to-four pages of coverage, with lots of sidebars and photographs.) Moreover, the book has some historical value. It captures a certain perspective from the late 1970's. Such data is of potential interest to the social historian. The topic of cults is of undeniable interest to our patrons, who have checked out this book at least three times a year for many years in a row.

The problem is that the Douglas Public Library District is not an academic institution, determined to preserve historical records on all topics. We seek to maintain a relatively current collection. By our standards, the book Cults and New Faiths is in poor physical condition and very dated. It is not generally acknowledged as a key work in the field. In fact, we should have "weeded" it from our shelves some time ago. ("Weeding" is librarian shorthand for the part of collection management that removes older items to make way for new ones.)

So although the library must resist adopting the role of public censor, it would be contrarian to keep a book just because someone complained about it, when our standard procedures should have removed it for other reasons.

My decision, therefore, was to remove the book. We will, however, replace it with a more current title or titles on the same topic.

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