Library of Congress name change does not solve the real problem


Last week, the Library of Congress (LOC) made a change celebrated by a wide range of organizations, including the American Library Association. After years of pressure to make changes to the “foreign” and “illegal alien” catalog headings, the LOC replaced them with the terms “non-citizen” and “illegal immigration”. The decision has been under discussion since at least 2016, when conservative congressional politicians stepped in and determined that the titles would remain as is.

Media covering the change call it “more specific” and “less offensive,” and the American Library Association has said it is not only commendable, but “better reflects common terminology and respects users and users. library workers from all walks of life, and this also reflects the core value of social justice for ALA members.

While this certainly sounds like a step forward in removing the term “alien”, the problem is that people are still labeled “illegal.”

Organizations like RaceForward have advocated for the removal of the word ‘illegal’ from discourse on undocumented migrants since 2010. Their #DropTheIWord campaign specifically focuses on how the media is undermining progress by continuing to refer to immigrants as asylum seekers. asylum and other undocumented migrants as something less than a person. The right has started to use the term “illegal” to overturn immigration reform, and the continued use of the word has only increased the harm and marginalization of undocumented migrants. Since its launch, #DropTheIWord has influenced major publications to drop the word in their style guides and writing, and RaceForward notes that the Associated Press, which dropped the word i in its reporting in 2013, scored the best. results and was most accurate in its coverage of immigrant history.

Changing the subject of the LOC may remove the word “foreign”, but it retains the use of “illegal”. The term is not only dehumanizing, it is inaccurate and it is racist. By retaining the word “illegal,” the cataloging hierarchy continues to cause damage and shows its inability to be as progressive and inclusive – and even socially just – as it should be. Instead, he acts to push back conservative politicians only without better understanding why bigger change is needed. It is not about winning a political game.

Library of Congress subject headings are used in all libraries across the United States, one of many systems a library can use to organize its collections (including Melvil Dewey’s well-documented racist catalog system) . These subject headings are standardized and controlled categories. They are periodically updated by the Policy and Standards Committee to reflect greater accuracy, but it is clear that these changes are politically tied to the ruling Congress and are slow to be incremental. The history of the colonizers of America is imprinted through these categories, as can be seen in the categories still in use “American Indians”, “Indians, treatment of” and “North American Indians”.

Catalogers on Twitter responded to the latest LOC change with frustration. In addition to pointing to the ongoing failure, some have pointed out that the LOC is not responsible for how libraries or individual systems outside of the Library of Congress itself choose to catalog. This is a good thing: it means that real progress can be made on a smaller scale, but therefore, it means real progress. To occur on a smaller scale.

The new subject headings in the COL catalog are not a step forward. They represent the bare minimum and do not correspond to the values, knowledge and work of social justice. Indeed, it is not a leap to say that in libraries where there is no repression or local control of cataloging and where these items are used as they are, the harm is not without consequence. In a continuing era of hatred and discrimination against immigrants – yes, even in a “post-Trump” America – continuing to use language that marginalizes already vulnerable communities will only further aggravate the physical, mental and emotional damage to these people. people.

In addition, they make places like the library – which should be spaces that anyone can use without judgment or shame – unwelcoming to a significant number of people who deserve to feel safe there.

Learn more about the #DropTheIWord campaign, as well as what you can do to help dismantle oppressive and dangerous language. If you are in libraries push to locate your catalog control, as well as requesting organizations like the Library of Congress, the American Library Association and publications like Publishers Weekly and others announcing this change as a welcome and a progress, reconsider why more needs to be done and be done immediately.


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