Eliminate Illegal Alien from the LOC subject headings

Eliminate Illegal Alien from the LOC subject headings

Some members of House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations are pretending to be librarians. That would be great if it meant better funding for libraries, stronger privacy protections for patrons, and a commitment to ending illiteracy in this country. Of course, that’s not what they’ve done. Instead, they are playing librarian and messing around with “Subject Headings” in the catalog.

As part of a normal revision, the librarians at the Library of Congress have proposed using “Noncitizens” and “Unauthorized Immigration” instead of the term “Illegal Aliens” when describing people. Several members of the House are aghast that the Library could possibly use updated terminology to reduce confusion and increase scholarly accuracy.  Certain members of the Appropriations Committee are demanding that the term “Illegal Aliens” be used by the Library. They even put language into the FY2017 Legislative budget that would direct the Library of Congress to retain the two pejorative subject headings “Aliens” and “Illegal Aliens.” It would tie the Library of Congress subject headings to the US criminal code, in fact.

What the committee members don’t understand is that the Library of Congress does in fact retain historically significant but no longer culturally acceptable terms. In the Subject Authorities Headings (which helps organize everything in your library’s catalog), you’ll find such archaic terms as Retard, Oriental, Negro, Blackface, and Indian. While society has moved on to more humane language, these terms remain as reminders of the past connected to books, movies, music, and other media from our shared history.

So the House Representatives shouldn't worry. The Library of Congress will retain all the backwards, insensitive, awful, petty, and distinctly vile terms that people used to think were perfectly acceptable. But the country as a whole will move on.

That’s why we are asking you to stand with us and the librarians at the Association of Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) who sent a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations that thoughtfully and thoroughly took them through the process that goes into setting Subject Headings. This is why they have Masters in Library Science. We need to let the rest of the House know how important it is to leave the library to the librarians. Please send them an email today.