Controversial Materials

As an academic research library with a historic collection that pre-dates the founding of the University, the Queen’s University Library’s collection is large and varied. Along with contemporary materials, our collection includes hundreds of thousands of primary source materials that are retained for research and teaching purposes.

Libraries have a mandate to collect publications that represent the breadth of human production in scholarly activity, literature, and mass culture. We do this to ensure resources are available for scholars and learners to cast a critical eye on cultural and scientific production of the past and present. Some of the works collected in libraries represent offensive and even hateful points of view. An item’s presence in our collection does not indicate that we endorse its views.

Among other factors for consideration, preserving and providing access to works with offensive content ensures that they can be objects of continued study and critique, and that the primary source evidence they provide about injustice and hatred is not erased. These works are used by researchers looking to describe and document systems of oppression such as racism, colonialism, antisemitism, misogyny, and others; and to promote social justice through a stronger understanding of, and critical approach to, writings and ideas that influence history and culture.

In libraries, we can find ourselves in a place that questions the value of intellectual freedom, precisely because that freedom can entail the presence of ideas that are harmful and oppressive. While these conversations are challenging, they provide opportunities to gain new insight and to engage critically with texts in the context of anti-racist and anti-oppressive modes of inquiry, sustained critical thinking, and scholarly effort.

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