Some Good News? Library of Congress Subject Headings

There is some bittersweet news that came the past few weeks, that I had yet to address.

To be clear, I am downplaying how yucky I still feel over the latest current events regarding the verdict of the Rittenhouse case. My game-scheduled event was also unpleasant because I was still trying to recover. Nonetheless, I am on the lookout for future protests I can go in opposition to white supremacy and this country’s direction, especially hearing that our current president seems to act like things are working as intended (instead of disappointed in how things should be). Yes, people have told me it is risky now, but I need to do the right thing (even if imperfectly). It is neither the first nor last protesting I can and do because of the consequences of silence.

In light of this news, in addition to the gaming community starting to show hints of resistance to white supremacy, my profession is starting to, as well.

Library of Congress have decided to finally change the subject headings for “aliens” and “illegal aliens” in favor of terminology not only more commonly used, but more humanizing. Library Magazine discusses it. “Noncitizens” and “illegal immigrants” are being put in place. While I do strongly prefer the term “undocumented immigrants” in place of the latter, especially because I believe no human being is illegal (at least no more “illegal” than citizens), I acknowledge at least some humanity has been recognized. Equating people to “aliens” has always bothered me, especially since our pop-culture has very specific ways of regarding people in this category, but also in fantasy and science fiction.

Hopefully in the future, kinder words will be considered still. Book Riot brings this point up, as well. In 2016, there was an attempt to make this change, but there was strong pushback.

I know some politicians, such as Senator Ted Cruz (Texas-R) and Mike Braun (Illinois-R), are vocally opposed to any change at all and said they will not be able to better find materials in libraries over this change. They argue that these terms had been in documents for years, including government documents. As this article points out, though, the original, dated, and problematic terms will be kept in systems for the purpose of cross-referencing.

As a cataloger, I can actually say there are ways people can search for terms and have them mapped over with another term, or have terms indexed and redirected to something more suitable. Each library system does it differently, and money in the right system combination is needed, but it is possible and should be done when people can do it. Several traditional systems still have yet to catch up in an efficient manner or invest, but I hope this move will actually push them in the right direction. Library of Congress said they are not eliminating people’s ability to search the dated terms, but want to center the less problematic ones. I agree with this move and had in my work asked database vendors about doing similar.

Like I said before: I do want the term undocumented immigrant considered in place of illegal immigrant, but nonetheless, this is a change that should have been done years ago. I applaud the shift in the right direction. We all can do better.

I am going to take a nap and hope some of this feeling of dread can lessen.

With love,

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