Holocaust Denial Materials and Other Fascist Content Removed from Library Ebook Platforms

In February, collection development librarians from U.S. public libraries pointed out on listservs and social media that several fascist ebooks—including ebooks that deny the Holocaust, a sympathetic biography of Hitler, and a new English translation of a title written by Nazi officer—were available for patrons to download on hoopla and were surfacing in searches alongside other nonfiction content. One of the titles was also available for libraries to license via OverDrive Marketplace.

Library Freedom Project and Library Futures logosIn February, collection development librarians from U.S. public libraries pointed out on listservs and social media that several fascist ebooks—including ebooks that deny the Holocaust, a sympathetic biography of Hitler, and a new English translation of a title written by Nazi officer—were available for patrons to download on hoopla and were surfacing in searches alongside other nonfiction content. One of the titles was also available for libraries to license via OverDrive Marketplace. On February 22, the Library Freedom Project (LFP) and Library Futures (LF) released a joint statement demanding “full accountability for how these materials were selected for inclusion on the platforms and more transparency in the companies’ material selection processes going forward” along with a form letter template for concerned librarians to email the leaders of both companies.

Although hoopla removed the titles within 48 hours of the letter’s publication—and President of Midwest Tape and Founder of hoopla Digital Jeff Jankowski issued an apology to customers—the organizations contend that additional transparency regarding vendor practices is needed to prevent misinformation and extremist content from appearing without context in a popular nonfiction collection on a library platform.

“I really think that they need to fully account for what happened here,” Alison Macrina, founder and executive director of LFP, told LJ. “We need to understand their collection development processes.” Macrina believes it is more likely that an automated process, rather than a person, added the titles to hoopla’s collection, but she added that “this speaks to a really disturbing trend that is happening across [the library field’s] collection development processes, which is that it’s becoming way more centralized” with automated processes or small groups of vendor employees making decisions that impact all libraries that use a platform or service.

“Disinformation is harmful information, but also there is this oversight question that I think remains unanswered,” said Callan Bignoli, director of the library at Olin College of Engineering, Needham, MA, and LFP team member. “It’s one thing for hoopla to say, ‘Here we go, we’re going to take this stuff out of our catalog in this one instance.’ It lends a certain lack of credibility to their selection process that I think we would really like to see some answers about…. I think we can all agree that we want there to be some kind of collection development standard.”

Following the online publication of this article, Mandy Pethick, manager, Library Services and Collections for Innisfil ideaLAB & Library in Ontario, Canada, contacted LJ to add that, "there is another level of concern regarding the titles in question in Canada, a legal one. The titles published by Antelope Hill [which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white supremacist group] likely meet the threshold of hate propaganda under section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code. Distributing hate propaganda is also illegal; therefore, having those titles in our collections actually put Canadian libraries in a potentially serious legal position. Hoopla informed me that they could not guarantee it wouldn't happen again; therefore, we cancelled our service with them because we cannot knowingly put our organization in such a risky position."



In Jankowski’s letter to customers, he explained that the titles in question came from five independent publishers from hoopla’s network of more than 18,000 publishers. They were added within the past 12 months “and unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening. As a result, we have taken immediate steps to improve our process.” The company has also begun “evolving [its] collection development and content review policies” and has established a new email address where customers can report titles of concern at contentfeedback@hoopladigital.com.

As part of its publisher network, “we believe in carrying small press and indie publishers,” Jankowski told LJ. “We have multiple metadata feeds, and we rely on all kinds of sources. And then we have all kinds of tools. Some of those tools and checklists…have people checking the service, and then we have other, more automated metadata tools. And we screwed up. We received some titles from publishers through an aggregator during the past year that we didn’t even realize we were carrying. We took these titles down immediately.”

Jankowski added that hoopla “constantly” works on its collection development policies. “We carry over a million titles on hoopla. We’ve been doing this since 2013, and we’ve had very few instances” of complaints from librarians. “This is obviously embarrassing, and I apologize and take full responsibility for letting this happen. We are changing and evolving our protocols and our procedures…. We have to better stewards to get titles that are not factual, that are propaganda-based, out of our collection. We also give librarians the tools to remove any titles that they want.”



Steve Potash, founder and CEO of OverDrive, acknowledged that “at least one” of the titles had been available on OverDrive Marketplace. According to the LFP, LF joint statement, that title was an English translation of A New Nobility of Blood and Soil, by Richard Walther Darré, chief of the Nazi SS Race and Settlement Main Office. However, Potash said that no library patrons had seen the title on OverDrive.

“If we put something in Marketplace, and no [library] buys it, it’s never available for a patron to discover,” Potash told LJ. “Unless a librarian, consortia, or educator selects a title, it’s only available for discovery, review, and evaluation by a librarian.” In this case, the title “was not selected or actually exposed to the public” by any of OverDrive’s customers, he added.

Potash also acknowledged that librarians can enable patron driven acquisition (PDA) features in OverDrive Marketplace, but in almost all cases in which libraries use those features, they are moderated, requiring a librarian to approve patron-selected purchases. In addition, he noted that PDA features enable libraries to filter and limit nonlicensed titles available for patrons to view.

As to how the title ended up on the Marketplace platform, Potash said that “we have direct partnerships with thousands of publishers worldwide—including dozens of aggregators—and this particular title that was discovered in OverDrive Marketplace was supplied to us by Ingram Content Group” via the company’s IngramSpark indie press and self-publishing division. In LFP’s open letter, screenshots of a search for the book’s publisher on hoopla taken prior to the ebooks’ removal indicate that several of the other titles in question were also self-published titles supplied to hoopla through Ingram’s CoreSource digital distribution service.

In a statement given to LJ by Ingram spokesperson Zach Hunt, he said that “Ingram Content Group’s mission is to help content reach its destination. While we will not distribute content that is illegal, we support our customers’ rights to decide what content to sell and publishers’ rights to decide what content to publish. We know that books may inspire, educate, and sometimes offend and we think it is important to bring all points of view to the market. We have always distributed books with different perspectives and opinions and will continue to do so.”

Nonetheless, Ingram, rather than OverDrive, has removed the titles from distribution, Potash said. “We didn’t take it down, and it would not be our policy to take it down, but I believe Ingram, as the supplier of the title, decided to pull it from their catalog.”

Citing the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s collection of antisemitic content as an example, Potash argued that there are legitimate uses for this content, such as the study of propaganda or the history of the Holocaust. He emphasized that context-free antisemitic or Holocaust denial ebooks surfacing in a library’s popular history collection was highly unlikely to happen on OverDrive’s patron-facing platform.

“We are strong advocates of freedom of speech and First Amendment rights, and we also believe in trusting librarians,” Potash said. “So, every aspect of what gets added or discovered in a patron-facing site is because a librarian made that judgement call or selected the title.”



This issue arose during a time when K–12 libraries and public libraries are facing an unprecedented number of book challenges, primarily from right-wing activists demanding the removal of books involving gender identity and LGBTQ themes, as well as many books with themes of racism. Removing Holocaust denial ebooks from a popular nonfiction collection is clearly a different issue than parents wanting to prevent teenagers from reading a YA title with an LGBTQ protagonist, but the distinction may be lost on those who are currently fielding book challenges.

Reiterating that OverDrive would not have removed the Darré title from Marketplace under its current policies, Potash stated that “we’ve had book challenges, especially in school libraries in particular regional markets. But we feel strongly that we need to be committed to access” for librarians. “While I may be repulsed by many of these things, [librarians] can be comfortable knowing that if I had similar pressure to remove something about gender identity or the racial history of this country, we will stand strong to defend the ability of those books to be available for discovery and evaluation by every library.”

In his letter to customers, Jankowski wrote: “Due to the hateful nature of these specific titles, I have no regrets about having our team remove them from hoopla. Despite my personal objections to these ebooks, I must acknowledge that this situation highlights a complex issue that libraries have always faced in curating their collections—avoiding a culture of censorship. Just as libraries receive challenges on items in their physical collections, we receive challenges on individual titles. We review those concerns and make the best decisions we can for the overall hoopla community.”

Macrina contends that the current climate makes the removal of fascist propaganda even more important. “My view of free speech has an analysis of power in it,” she said. “Who is really at risk of being silenced? Who is really under threat for their speech? [Currently] it’s queer people, it’s Black people, it’s people of color in general…. Trans children right now have just become criminalized in Texas. So, the context of the book bannings that we’re seeing are part of a bigger issue that we are facing as a society that is challenging the very humanity of some of the most marginalized people…. Nazis went after those people. Nazis burned books.”

Noting that some librarians had raised these concerns regarding the open letter, Bignoli added that “I don’t agree with that line of thinking—putting the kibosh on advocacy or protest or statements because of some imagined consequence. I think that has a chilling effect that we really should not let ourselves be prone to, because it’s going to stifle how much people [in the library field] are willing to push back when things like this come up. The other thing I would say is that the far-right people are already targeting libraries.”

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Matt Enis



Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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