Concerns new library rules may leave Bible 'beyond reach'

Librarians have been told to place all religious texts on the top shelves of bookcases, following complaints from Muslims about the positioning of the Koran on shelves.

The move came about after Muslims complained about the Koran being placed on lower shelves, reports The Daily Mail. They said that it should be put above common book but some Christians are concerned it may put the Bible out of reach of readers.

Officials, backed by ministers, have said that all holy books should be treated equally and put on the top shelf together. The guidance from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, a quango that answers to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, tells libraries to put the Bible and the Koran on the top shelf above non-holy books.

The quango said that Muslims in Leicester had moved copies of the Koran to the top shelves in libraries, as they believe it to be the word of God. In a report they said that the librarians of the city had spoken to the Federation of Muslim Organisations and were advised that all holy books be placed on the top shelf.

The guidance states: “meant that no offence is caused, as the scriptures of all the major faiths are given respect in this way, but none is higher than any other.”

However, the move has generated criticism from Christian, civil and even Muslim groups.

Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think-tank, was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying, “Libraries and museums are not places of worship. They should not be run in accordance with particular religious beliefs. This is violating the principles of librarianship and it is part of an insidious trend.”

He added, “One of the central planks of the Protestant Reformation was that everybody should have access to the Bible.”

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute commented, “It is disappointing if the policy of libraries is dictated by the practices of one group. It is particularly disappointing if this is done to put the scriptures beyond reach.

“I hope there will be a rethink. I understand that Muslims revere their own text, but in public libraries there should not be a policy of putting religious texts out of reach.”

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim think tank Engage also criticised the move, “If Muslims wish to see the Koran placed on a higher shelf, and library rules say it should be there, then that is a welcome and considerate gesture.

“But one size does not fit all. If Christians do not want to see the Bible treated in the same way, I do not see why it has to be dealt with the same."

Canon Chris Sugden, of the Anglican Mainstream movement, went so far as to say the move appeared "to be a reversion to medieval times, when the Bible could be read only by priests in Latin and was not to be defiled by ordinary people reading it".

“The principle to be challenged is that there is a certain way in which one must treat all holy books," he said.

“The Bible is readily available, and it would not be difficult to have more than one copy, with some on display within the reach of children.”

The guidelines also spoke against a decision made by libraries in Leicester to acquire Islamic books from local suppliers. The libraries inadvertently started supplying Muslim books which condoned violence against non-Muslims.