Today it was reported that:
The British Library has declined to store a large collection of Taliban-related documents over concerns regarding terrorism laws. [...]
Alex Strick van Linschoten, an author and researcher who helped spearhead the project said it was "surprising and disappointing".
"There's no recipes for making bombs or anything like that," he said.
"These are documents that would help people understand history, whether it's Afghans trying to learn about their recent past, or outsiders wanting to understand the movement.
"Any scholar would realise it's essential to read primary documents related to your subject if you want to understand militant groups, but there is a climate of fear among academics who study this kind of material because UK law is very loose." [...]
The Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 make it an offence to "collect material which could be used by a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism" and criminalise the "circulation of terrorist publications". (BBC)
In Rebecca Flanders' Second Sight (1984) the librarian heroine argues against restricting library collections and wins because the book-banners are forced to recognise that their definitions of offensive materials are too loose:
"the problem with this library system is that we have no written guidelines for the librarian to follow. It's a small system, and I suppose we always felt that there was no need for written rules, that the librarian's judgment was sufficient. However" - her smile was self-deprecating - "obviously it is not enough. I assure you that I would have been quite willing to abide by such regulations had they ever been presented to me in an official manner, so allow me to suggest, for my sake - or that of my successor - that we erase the ambiguity right now and vote on a standard of criteria by which books should be judged so that this unfortunate situation never recurs [...]
[...] First, [...] I believe you made reference to 'offensive language and sexual themes.' Shall we agree that this should be number one on the list of unacceptable material to appear in a library book?"
There was unified agreement.
Jennifer made a check on her note pad and reached to take a book from the stack she had collected and placed upon the chair next to her. "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ladies and gentlemen," she said, and tossed it onto the pile of previously rejected books. [...]
Then, matter-of-factly, before anyone could say anything, she went on, "Graphic violence, evil intent, works reflecting the influence of drugs or alcohol or advocating their usage?" [...] Jennifer made another check on her pad and reached for another book. "The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe," she said [...]
She said, "Then, shall we agree that in the future no book containing explicit sex, offensive language, references to improper relationships or perversion, graphic displays of violence, or themes that condone immoral behavior be admitted to the shelves, and that all such books as now occupy space on the shelves of our public library be immediately removed?" [...]
Jennifer stood slowly and placed a copy of the Bible on top of the stack of banned books. (241-5)
In response to the librarian's logical defence, the library committee, recognising that their criteria were far too broadly worded, back down entirely; in the context of the British Library's refusal to give shelf space to a potentially controversial collection, the "Home Office declined to comment saying it was a matter for [the] library" and the loose definitions remain in force.
BBC. "British Library declines Taliban archive over terror law fears". 28 August 2015.
Flanders, Rebecca. Second Sight. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1984.