Illegal Searching: Solutions to Problematic Subject Headings
- Justina Kaiser (Miami University)
A common example of systematic privilege in library settings involves the continued use of outdated subject terminology in cataloging. Perhaps the most famous example of this, the Library of Congress Subject Heading “Illegal alien” refers to undocumented citizens in a demeaning and derogatory manner, dehumanizing these individuals in a way that has been contested by library associations across the country for years. While it might be simple to find and report offensive subjects and to extrapolate on their faults, enacting changes in integrated library systems and in catalogs often proves a slow and forgotten task, especially considering the length of time that many of these terms have been used for cataloging purposes. At one university library, the discussion of this topic has become paramount due to the continued interest between it and its cultural advocacy challenges. This presentation discusses possible solutions to allow users to search catalogued items despite - or perhaps because of - problematic or offensive subject headings, from including regulated note fields in MARC records to discussing systematic changes to official terminology.
Justina Kaiser is the Digital Discovery Librarian at Miami University. She holds a Masters of Library Science from Indiana University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Butler University.