Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Libraries and the Occult

Aleister Crowley's Moonchild book cover

BoingBoing reported that Cecile Dubuis wrote "Libraries and The Occult," a master's dissertation for University College London. In it, she discusses how occult materials are often hard to find in libraries because they are "poorly treated in most classification schemes, partly because it is not taken seriously in the academic world, but also because occult phenomena and occult studies have been confused." Occult items are located in multiple places in Dewey, Library of Congress and other traditional classification systems, making browsing and searching difficult for interested patrons.

For instance, in Dewey, occult subjects are mostly classified under 130 and 133. However, they can also be cataloged under the following numbers.

In the 000’s (Computer Science, Information, General works…) under:
001 Knowledge

In the 100’s (Philosophy & Psychology) under:
110 Metaphysics
130 Parapsychology & occultism
140 Specific philosophical schools
150 Psychology
170 Ethics
180 Ancient, medieval & eastern philosophy
190 Modern western philosophy

In the 200’s (Religion) under:

200 Religion
210 Philosophy & theory of religion
280 Christian denominations & sects
290 Other religions

In the 300’s under:

360 Social problems & services (with 366 for various secret societies)
390 Customs, etiquette & folklore

From her abstract:

The principal aims of this study are to look at how libraries currently deal with occult collections and as to why such materials are still not widely available to the public through the library system.

Its intent is to cover both historical and current collections, how libraries have dealt with them and on the classification difficulties that arise from such a broad yet relatively untouched subject.

A further section of the dissertation will consider some of the history of occult collections, on where they have gone to, on the changes or lack thereof between then and the present day, and on how some libraries advertise such collections whilst others still hide them away.

Another aspect of the project will discuss some of the issues of censorship and how the occult field is under constant pressure to either remain hidden or to prove its validity and useful. Here, I will also consider some of the current controversies and the librarian’s dilemma.

The majority of the collections that I have been able to access and explore are based in London, or in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, I have also incorporated studies on important collections that are housed overseas.

In addition to both historical and present day collections, a further section looks at the future of the occult collection with regard to online resources and current library-building projects.

The occult, whilst continuing to enjoy a significant growth in interest with the public at large, remains predominantly unchartered territory for the librarian. This study will try to consider and discuss some of the issues that surround this most mysterious of subjects.

Read the rest of her dissertation here.

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