The Pernkopf Atlas

This article describes the controversial anatomy book I brought up in class tonight. In a nutshell, the book is an anatomy atlas that was originally created and published by Pernkopf. It is widely believed that Pernkopf used victims of the Nazi holocaust as models for his illustrations. LOTS of opinions on whether the book should continue to be published, and on whether older copies should be held in libraries. And a lot of discussion about the librarian’s responsibility to uphold freedom of information vs medical ethics. I copied a couple of key paragraphs below, but the entire article is interesting (I’ll go back and read it more closely, I only skimmed through it during the first class break). VERY interesting to note that some people thought the book should be weeded for the same reasons others felt it should be kept (e.g. both sides felt it was a constant reminder of past atrocities – some wanted that constant reminder as a preventive measure against repetition, others felt it was better to not have to constantly think about past horrors). The article also mentioned the importance of collection policies – ties in nicely with tonight’s lecture!

A couple paragraphs pulled from the article, that touch on some of the issues most pressing for medical/health science librarians. They barely touch the surface of what all there is to consider, so don’t let my few words and selections be all you take from this!:

“The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states that “[m]aterials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation” [48]. The Medical Library Association adopted a “Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship” in 1994 [49]. It includes the statement that health sciences librarianship “creates and maintains conditions of freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression that facilitate informed health care decisions.” Thus, most medical school libraries did act in accordance with this statement in not withdrawing this controversial title.”

“A library collection development policy is a statement about how a library carries out its mission through the acquisition of information resources for its users. It should include sentiments expressed by the Medical Library Association’s “Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship” and the Association of College and Research Library’s “Intellectual Freedom Principles, for Academic Libraries.” An established collection development policy is the most important tool a library has for handling challenges to the inclusion of controversial items in its collection. Despite this library school axiom, most American medical school libraries have not established a standard for the selection and treatment of controversial materials in their collections. The survey revealed that, while 93% of the responding libraries (54 of 60) have a written collection development policy, only 6% (4 of 60) included a statement in that policy concerning how to deal with controversial materials.”



3 thoughts on “The Pernkopf Atlas

  1. Interesting, and sad. Thanks for mentioning this. Policy definitely helps us. We need to make sure we have good policies. We do need to uphold intellectual freedom, but I can see where families and those having gone through the Holocaust would be upset to see something like this.

    • True! and interestingly, there are MANY different views on how this particular issue should be handled. Some victims or descendants (or sympathizers) of the holocaust have voiced the opinion that the book should be removed out of respect, others have said they should be kept for the same reason (that to let the atrocities be constantly recognized is good, and/or removing the books would cause the models’ (forced) sacrifice to have been in vain), and still others have said that they should be kept EVEN THOUGH they are skeezy and horrible, because the good outweighs the bad. It is interesting to read about for sure!

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