The official view of Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library is compiling a list of books it considers “problematic”. 

On the 21st October, it was revealed in the Telegraph that Cambridge University Library (CUL) was compiling a list books it considered “problematic”. CUL is one of the UK’s legal deposit libraries, retaining a copy of every book published in the UK. It has been reported that a large number of books have already been submitted as problematic. 

The policy has been heavily criticised by a series of senior academics. Professor David Abulafia, a historian at Cambridge, stated “I find the sheer arrogance of their [the librarians’] assumption of their role as censors breathtaking.” Abulafia also drew a parallel to “the Nazi period where books by Jewish authors are marked with a star”. Professor James Orr, a theologian at Cambridge, described the move as “sinister”, and added that the policy “would undermine the University Library’s justified reputation as one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world”.  

CUL has staunchly defended the policy, stating that CUL does “not censor, blacklist or remove content unless the content is illegal under UK law”. CUL is correct that the policy does not amount to censorship – although the details of what it will amount to appear to be far from finalised. An internal memo reveals that the list will be used by university staff to enable them to “think through” the question of the problematic books.  

CUL’s response that it is not censoring is a distraction. By compiling a list of books considered unethical the library has taken an official point of view on these books, and their content. Academic freedom requires that universities and their institutions do not take official points of view. The existence of an official dogma undermines the autonomy of academics and students in forming their own views, even in cases where academics and students agree with the dogma in question. CUL’s new list stifles freedom of thought for all.