The Cold War is generally considered to be a period of time between 1947 and 1991 when a state of tension existed between two of the world’s superpowers: the USSR and the US. Considered a “cold war” because of the lack of large scale fighting between countries, this period had an extreme internal effect on home nation policies. These new policies were set in place to protect citizen as well as to insure their loyalty. Unfortunately, these patriotic policies had consequences which negatively affected many public and academic libraries. This paper will recount some of the difficulties experienced by academic libraries during the 1946-1956 time span of the Cold War era.
During the Cold War period loyalty programs became a standard policy invoked by government officials on all types of American libraries. Members of library staff were strongly encouraged to sign vague oaths and affidavits to prove loyalty to the United States and to denounce any relations with unnamed organizations. In the early stages of loyalty programs, academic librarians and staff believed that they were immune to such attacks on their loyalty, “they optimistically believed that they existed within a protected realm of academic freedom” (Robbins L. S., 1995, p. 346)
Despite the optimistic view of these librarians academic libraries were subjected to loyalty programs and probes just as their public counterparts were. Refusal to sign or swear to these oaths had no set outcome. Depending on the pressure put on the institution a library member who refused the loyalty program could either be publicly backed by their establishment, silently dismissed or suspended, or brought up on legal charges. The inconsistent and unforeseeable consequences caused many libraries to develop an anxious and distrustful atmosphere.
The newly established atmosphere in academic libraries may have contributed to the large scale self-censoring which took place during this time. Many libraries and even the American Library Association supported the idea of intellectual freedom; however in practice books were considered dangerous. Materials considered dangerous either by the government’s standards or perceived as a potential threat by an individual or an institution were regularly dismissed from acquisition lists. This paranoia of books having the potential to be considered dangerous was not and unprovoked thought. Earlier in the decade, in an attempt to ride higher education establishments of pro-Communist materials, the House Committee on Un-American Activities demanded that over seventy universities and colleges submit lists of books and course readings for the committee to evaluate. This meant that any academic library and their associated collections could fall under the scrutiny of the government and feel the impact of their choices.
Self-censorship was not the only tactic employed by academic libraries to defend themselves from accusations. Some universities found it easier to comply with...