Monday, June 20, 2016

Keep politics out of LOC subject headings

Spine-up view of Volumes I through VI in Library of Congress Subject Classification Headings, circa 2011, bound in burgundy-cloth hardcover
Source of image: American Library Association
In an email to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, I urged the House Appropriations Committee to strike language in legislation adopted by its Legislative Branch Subcommittee, which would bar the Library of Congress (LOC) from updating subject heading classifications for the terms “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens.”

I used the EveryLibrary online petitioning platform to direct my message to Walden. In my message, I stated that the replacement of “Aliens” with “Noncitizens” and “Illegal aliens” with “Noncitizens” and/or “Unauthorized immigration” is part of normal revisions that replace outdated terminology.

The proposed changes are thoroughly documented in an April 28 letter to the Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, from the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS). The benefits of these revisions include a reduction in confusion and increased scholarly accuracy.

I agree with the position expressed by the ALA and ALCTS: that in these updates, its members see only “attention to historical detail, intellectual honesty, procedural transparency, and faithfulness to long standing precepts and practices of librarianship.”

There is nothing political in the decision to replace these headings, which will continue to serve as reminders of our past as historically-significant terms. References to previous headings are “effectively retained” to ensure that researchers are directed to all relevant materials.

In contrast, the language in subcommittee legislation injects political ideology into the field of librarianship.

I implore Walden and all Members of the Committee to strike all language from any piece of appropriations legislation that would countermand or modify the LOC’s recent determinations pertaining to “Aliens” and/or “Illegal aliens,” and to oppose any other legislation that would have similar effect.

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