Can guidelines help weed racist textbooks out of libraries?

“Textbooks signify particular ways of selecting and organizing that vast universe of possible knowledge. They embody what Raymond Williams called the selective tradition — someone’s selection, someone’s vision of legitimate knowledge and culture, one that in the process of enfranchising one group’s cultural capital disenfranchises another’s” (Apple, 1990, p. 20).

Our open textbook research findings have extended the international literature by highlighting a legacy of sexist, racist and out of date textbooks. These outdated texts can negatively impact under-represented students in terms of inequitable experiences and outcomes. Interviewees also felt that sexist, racist and out of date textbooks negatively impact all students in terms of diminished graduate skills and knowledge outcomes.

Although there is not a great deal of literature on textbook use in higher education, earlier studies suggest that textbooks have been sexist for some time. Various studies from the 1990s onwards reported on the problems of under and mis-representation of women in university textbooks, including in the fields of English Language and Psychology (Hogben & Waterman, 1997; Lee & Collins, 2010). Critical scholar Michael Apple (1990) also discussed how class, gender, and race bias had been widespread in school classroom learning materials.

So I was very interested to read this inspiring article about finding and ultimately removing old books from a school library that carried forward damaging stereotypes of Indigenous people. The process began after a parent’s 8-year-old came home with a library book.

“I knew immediately from the cover it wasn’t going to be positive”, said Kerry Klimm, an Aboriginal journalist.

Dale Robertson and Kerry Klimm in the school library.

Dale Robertson and Kerry Klimm in the school library. Used with permission from Connections publication.

“I flicked through the pages and was disturbed at what I saw. It took me back to my childhood – growing up in the ‘80s learning about ‘The Aborigines’, defined as nomadic people who wandered aimlessly until white people came and made us civilised.” Rather than just removing this one book from the collection, Dale Robertson, teacher librarian at Albany Park State School wanted to go further and review the whole collection. “I was embarrassed and worried what else might be in our library that I didn’t know about”, she said.

Starting with a Queensland Studies Authority (now QCAA) document called ‘Guidelines: Indigenous perspectives – selecting and evaluating resources’, Kerry and Dale met on a regular basis to go through the resources and identify inappropriate books. While the Guidelines suggest focussing on titles up until the 1980s, Dale and Kerry actually removed 19 books including some published as late as 2015!

I encourage you to give the article a read, especially the Librarians amongst us. I would be keen to know how often local Libraries go through their collections and remove outdated material. Could the QLD guidelines help Libraries weed out outdated material offensive to Indigenous people?

Image credit: Ngaanyatjarra kids. CC-BY Mark Roy via WikiMedia Commons.


Apple, M. W. (1990). The Text and Cultural Politics. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue de La Pensée Éducative, 24(3A), 17–33.

Hogben, M., & Waterman, C. K. (1997). Are All of Your Students Represented in Their Textbooks? A Content Analysis of Coverage of Diversity Issues in Introductory Psychology Textbooks. Teaching of Psychology, 24(2), 95–100.

Lee, J. F. K., & Collins, P. (2010). Construction of gender: A comparison of Australian and Hong Kong english language textbooks. Journal of Gender Studies, 19(2), 121–137.

Category list: library practice, research

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

back to top