Reading as a Social Pursuit
Dewey Decimal Classification — 300-399 Social Sciences Library
By Guest Contributor Linda Maxie
Most public libraries have social science books as a part of their Dewey Decimal Classification division 300-399. The common theme for this section is people and their relationships.
In most libraries, the 300s take up a lot of shelf space because they cover a wide and varied swath of topics. The major subdivisions cover statistics, political science, economics, law, social problems, education, transportation, commerce, and folklore.
To drill down further, this section houses books on sociology and various -isms, like sexism, racism, ageism, etc. Then, skipping ahead, you can find books on numerous types of political systems, like democracy, monarchy, and totalitarianism.
Most people are familiar with criminal law, but subdivisions are devoted to labor, environmental, and constitutional laws. Military science goes under the public administration subheading. Even books on etiquette find a home here.
If these topics interest you, head to your nearest public library and explore. You never know what you may find being social.
Public Libraries Censorships
Since the 300s are where politics, law, social problems, and education are all housed, it seems like an appropriate place to discuss a distressing topic in public (and school) libraries today, which is censorship.
Libraries Under Attack
According to the American Library Association, U.S. libraries had their highest number of challenges to books in a single year in 2021. Disturbingly, most of the 1,600 or so challenges to individual titles were either for or by Black or LGBTQIA+ persons. In 2022, the ALA reports that challenges against 1,579 books in the U.S had already been filed by September.
In the past, library book challenges came mostly from individual parents objecting to materials they felt should be unavailable to all children. But most challenges now come from organized groups that have been given lists of books to protest. Often, the individuals in these groups have not even read the books.
These challenges have become increasingly threatening. A few recent examples have included a Montana public library where staff found books full of gunshot holes in their book return box. Then there’s the case of where citizens that are being served by Michigan’s Patmos Library voted to defund it because of a mere 90 books on the library’s shelves they found objectionable.
And at the Boundary County Library in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, a group called the Redoubt, founded by a California Christian survivalist, brought guns to the local library board meeting and demanded the library exclude 400 books from the collection. The library had none of those books on its shelves. Unfortunately, the director felt so threatened she resigned.
Book displays have received the brunt of protests as well. June 2022 was an especially rancorous month as threats broke out at libraries across the nation over Pride Month displays. In addition, in a campaign called “Hide the Pride,” some conservative groups were encouraging people to check out books they had earmarked so others couldn’t access them.
A Harmful Trend?
Libraries are committed to serving all their users equally. While some bias is impossible to avoid, libraries make materials available to their communities regardless of income, sex, gender, religion, race, creed, or economic status.
In a discussion of this issue, the Public Library Association asks why any group should get to decide what everyone else has access to. There is no fair way to grant one group this privilege. People left out of the discussion are marginalized and effectively silenced.
In what way does this perspective promote equity or freedom? No one is required to read any of these titles. What gives a few people the power to decide that no one should read them?
Citizens that pursue efforts to ensure that their libraries lose funding do harm their communities. For example, the Patmos Library in Michigan uses its budget and collections to provide internet service to residents who don’t have it. They provide materials for homeschoolers, people looking for job training, and community-building activities such as discussion groups and literacy programs. Defunding them hurts the people who need these services most.
So is it reasonable for the library to lose funding because some people object to 90 materials out of a collection of 67,000?
In addition to organized groups, like the Redoubt in Idaho, some politicians encourage these challenges. Just as candidates used Critical Race Theory to stoke emotions before recent elections, some currently use libraries to stoke outrage among supporters.
This form of grandstanding has shown great success in raising campaign funds. But some libraries are fighting back. In Bonners Ferry, for example, library board member Lee Colson was quoted by CNN saying he could not tell a group that the library would never stock any of the 400 books they found objectionable. “Because if we’re a library, if the public comes in and requests those books, we will get those books. That’s what we do.”
Help for Besieged Libraries and Librarians
Censorship is a violation of our First Amendment rights. However, libraries and their staff have an ally in the American Library Association. The organization, and many of its state affiliates, offer advice and legal support for censorship challenges. If you’d like to know how you can help, you can find more information on the American Library Association website.
Books from the Social Sciences Section
These books are from Chapter 4, “Social Sciences” in Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction. You can find many other titles there as well.
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, 2017
Through extensive research of Black communities from the 1920s onward, Richard Rothstein demonstrates that our current segregated neighborhoods did not happen accidentally. Instead, zoning laws and urban planning codified them. While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 declared housing discrimination illegal, it did nothing to reverse the damage already done.
Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized, 2020
Journalist and political commentator Ezra Klein explains how identity politics emerged in the U.S. over the last decades of the 20th century. The problem is that voting strictly by identity has become so influential that policies no longer matter, leading to a breakdown in our government and our society at large.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, 2018
Looking at the history of democracies, Harvard professors Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that there are signposts along the way to their demise and that the election of Donald Trump is one we have already passed. Then they discuss how we can save our democracy.
Kai-Fu Lee, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, 2018
AI and China expert Kai-Fu Lee explores how Chinese artificial intelligence development has recently caught up with the U.S. Lee urges both countries to handle the astounding powers of AI with care, and he talks about the inevitable effect AI will have on global job markets. Finally, he predicts which jobs will be impacted and provides suggestions on how societies can cope with the changes.
Scott D. Seligman, The Third Degree: The Triple Murder that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice, 2018
Miranda rights, which are still in danger today, are not granted by the Constitution. Instead, as this true-crime thriller explains, they were obtained when a young Chinese immigrant, accused of murdering three diplomats in Washington, D.C., in 1919, was investigated for the crime.
Annie Jacobsen, The Pentagon’s Brain: The Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency, 2016
The controversial Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investigated by reporter Annie Jacobsen, who uses interviews, private documents, and declassified memos to penetrate what it’s for and what it does. What she finds is fascinating and frightening.
Shane Bauer, American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, 2018
Private prisons are increasingly common in America. Investigative reporter Shane Bauer became a guard at one in Winnfield, Louisiana, for $9 an hour in 2014. In this book, Bauer shares his experiences and outlines the history of these institutions, particularly in the South where, since the Civil War, they have been part of the system to keep African Americans in their place.
Steven Goodman, It’s Not About Grit: Trauma, Inequity, and the Power of Transformative Teaching, 2018
Educator Steven Goodman takes a compassionate look at struggling and marginalized students to see how to help them. Many of these students deal with issues that more successful students are thankfully spared, such as poverty, racism, or family issues like separation or violence. Sharing stories from many of these students provide insight into problems that, if left hidden, can halt the educational process for the children involved.
Anindya Ghose, Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy, 2017
Mobile economy expert Anindya Ghose takes an optimistic look at what smartphones and other mobile technologies can do for the people who use them. Rather than focusing on the dark potential of these devices, Ghose stresses the time-saving and helpful aspects of the global mobile economy, including the Internet of things, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.
Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, 2010
Peter Menzel travels the globe and reports on the one-day diets of 80 individuals. He provides photographs, calorie counts, and their ages and activity levels. The comparisons prove fascinating. In addition, famous writers and scientists discuss the impact of diets on health and the planet.
Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, 2014
Adrienne Mayor explores the most recent archaeological evidence for the Amazons’ existence. From the British Isles to China, Mayor searches for traces of these women-dominated warrior cultures.