I take issue with Graham Chainey (Opinion, May 18). The University of Sussex Library exhibition on "Subversion and censorship in libraries" does not claim the Vatican's index of prohibited books heralded the beginning of censorship.

As Mr Chainey pointed out, the censorship of books is as old as the written word itself.

My intentions in devising and planning the exhibition were to offer a slim history of censorship as it related to libraries, illustrated through specific items held in the University of Sussex Library.

Since the earliest material we hold in the library dates only to the late 1400s, it was most logical for me to begin my narration with the advent of printing.

Additionally, prior to the printing press, libraries were few and far between in Britain and were practically all in the hands of the leading power of the time, namely, the Church.

It was not until the advent of printing and the development of libraries as we would recognise them in the centuries that followed that the public became able to gain access to the written word.

Because the exhibition deals with censorship as it has impacted on libraries, I wanted to concentrate on the period of fiercest conflict, which did not begin until after the printing press.

I would be reluctant to accept Mr Chainey's feeling that the current exhibition strips the material of any context.

Every item on show, from Boccaccio's Decameron to Mapplethorpe's nudes, is firmly situated within the main thesis of the exhibition, which is that the social elite has always striven to restrict access to material that contradicts its own ideology.

It would be a mistake to view only the past as worthy of a place in history.

As the years pass, the history of censorship will place the name of Robert Mapplethorpe alongside Jonathan Swift, the Marquis de Sade and every other writer or artist whose work has constituted a landmark in the struggle to define certain material as "subversive" and thereby keep it out of the hands of the people.

-Tim Graves, assistant librarian (systems), University of Sussex Library, Brighton