In nutrition, one school of thought prefers to add variety into one’s diet, for example eating ‘a rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables, rather than demonising ‘bad’ foods by recommending a decrease in fat / sugar consumption. This approach balances out the less nutritious ingredients without the need to exclude any food groups.
“Muffin Tin Monday – rainbow of food for St. Patrick’s Day” by anotherlunch.com
As in good nutrition, so with a varied reading diet. If you are reading a little more literature by African authors, or texts taking a social model of disability approach, you may have less room for Eurocentric, male-dominated or white-biased views.
Recent newspaper articles show that what one person thinks a varied diet, another considers censorship or blacklisting of literature. As a profession librarians are ethically opposed to censorship and UK HEIs have not banned any books. There has however been a student-led movement in Liberating, Decolonising, broadening or diversifying curriculum and institutions, that teaching departments and libraries have engaged with to varying degrees. Reading lists are a small part of this, but can be a key, tangible window on course content, so is often an accessible first step in reviewing a module.
In the news articles, trigger or content warnings are conflated with discouraging reading, or even censorship of texts. If you use content warnings on your reading lists you may not agree that this is a logical conclusion. Content warnings can look like metadata: that is, data about data. Keywords to help the reader navigate a list of resources, rather than limiting access to them. Indeed adding notes is something we encourage as best practice when setting readings, to set context and expectation.
We will shortly be publishing some suggestions on how you might use your reading list to evaluate module content through through a liberated lens [edit: now available in the blog post Liberating your Reading List‘]. Involving student collaborators in this work can develop their information literacy skills as they assist in evaluating readings, and also add variety to your module readings, benefitting from the multiple backgrounds and experiences of the student body.
The canon is still there, in both reading lists and library: nobody has lost any literature. But an outcome of learning how to evaluate their reading diet is that students develop better critical appraisal skills in their research and reading. An environment of polarised opinion only hinders this progress. Now isn’t that headline news?