Monday, October 18, 2010

Week 7: The Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust Denial

After reading and viewing this week’s materials, as well as my classmates’ blog posts, I find myself infinitely more informed about banned literature, the approaches being used to deal with censorship, and seeing different angles of debate in censoring materials.

The Holocaust is an event that I personally find undeniable. In the cases of the Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust denial literature, I immediately thought, “Never!” on including these materials. Yet I, like my classmates, remembered back to Mill, and his argument on truth and how we must always indulge fully in both sides of an argument before standing on solid ground. Truth is never one-sided, so to speak. Denying the Holocaust seems to be a whole different issue, because it is not about truth, but about promoting a lie. But in the interest of a truly democratic society that does not infringe the free speech and opinions of others, would a librarian who deliberately removes – or doesn’t buy – denial literature or the Pernkopf Atlas, be a traitor against the ideals of a democratic society?

One of the arguments given by Atlas for keeping the Pernkopf Atlas is that it serves the memories of the people (victims?) depicted in the book. At first, I thought this was an erroneous argument, but as I pondered this throughout the week, I have to agree somewhat. Today, the book can be used by any person of any race, creed or religion, in a profession that works to heal persons of any creed, race or religion. The use of the book today is a slap in the face to its author who, as dean of the University of Vienna’s medical faculty during World War II, ascribed to carrying out the Nazi ideology of ethnic cleansing, and revised the curriculum to help enact the Nazi’s rules and regulations of alienation. Ironically, the book is available in a world that shuns the type of evil government Pernkopf was so committed to, and can ultimately serve the greater good of humanity.

Still, is labeling controversial materials a viable option? I want to say no, because as Atlas stated, then every book in a collection is up for the same type of criticism, and libraries are supposed to provide information, not judge it. Like “hansenmk” asked, “Do libraries really want to get involved in these kinds of debates?” Shouldn’t we let patrons come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions about what to watch, read or listen to?

Two examples come to mind about materials that I can check out of my library. The first is that in the Warner Bros. DVD release of Looney Toons cartoon collections (various volumes). Actress Whoopi Goldberg introduces the collection by saying that some of the material could be racist, but that Warner Bros. did not delete any politically incorrect footage because that would be the same as if saying those ideas never existed. Granted, this was probably a corporate decision to prevent possible lawsuits, but the inclusion of controversial materials in a library serves the truth of history, the two-sided debate of issues and the freedom of every author.

Yet, as I circle back to Holocaust denial literature, I cannot believe that providing resources that further propagate a lie as terrible as the event itself will help scholarly research. I also believe that it is wrong to withhold material that is against my better moral judgment, even though many might agree with me. I am decidedly undecided.

Along with my fellow posters in this week’s blog entries, I agree that a thorough procedure regarding collection development, challenged materials, previously banned books, and the like is the strongest step in the right direction. Above all, we must never forget that we are the proponents of free speech and expression, both in its acquisition and its accessibility to all.

No comments:

Post a Comment