Thanks for sharing this. I found the thesis online: http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2012-05-5699/KOFORD-THESIS.pdf
I’m the author of this thesis and the ACRL poster Frank Newton referred to – it’s great to hear everyone’s perspectives! I’m not a regular on this list and not a cataloger, so it’s been really valuable to hear from people who work with these issues. I’m going to try to submit an article based on this research sometime soon, and I wasn’t sure whether I should include the interview with Eli Clare in the manuscript for publication, but your interest has encouraged me to look into it more. I need to figure out how to articulate why it might be valuable to talk to authors about subject headings for their work – I don’t think they should dictate what headings are chosen, but I do think there’s something to be gained from those conversations.
Good. I think it’s a great idea.
Continuing with my analysis however, I want to discuss a bit more the absence in the subject headings of the idea of “queerness”. This suggests much more than it would appear at first glance. It is such an obvious aspect of the book, mentioned directly in the title, the back cover, and throughout the book that I could see, and therefore it is obvious to me that this is not a case of a thoughtless oversight, but was a conscious omission.
The lack of the subject heading for the idea of “queerness” wasn’t discussed as such in your thesis, and the author apparently took no notice of it except in relation to “Women political activists”, mentioning there is no “Genderqueer political activists”. Yet, the idea of “queerness” must be reflected in the subjects. Such omissions are, in my opinion, absolutely vital when considering metadata. What is not in a metadata record is often just as important as what is. For instance a few years ago someone in the Popline database decided to make the word “abortion” into a “stopword”, which meant that whenever someone searched “abortion” they would find nothing. This was clearly a matter of censorship. Librarians discovered it (yay!) and it was fixed. http://www.librarian.net/stax/2276/librarians-notice-abortion-stop-word-take-action/
Comparing this with the book you discuss, someone searching for the “queerness” aspect of this book as a subject *cannot* find this book, and the results are exactly the same as with the above example about abortion, except here we are “hiding” only a single book, not an entire part of a database. If all the catalogers/indexers in the database had decided not to add “abortion” as a descriptor, the result would have been the same as adding it to the stopword list. Therefore, your example demonstrates there is always the potential for censorship in metadata creation.
An example of a thoughtless oversight is something I have mentioned in other posts, when toward the beginning of my career, I was cataloging a book on the legal rights and responsibilities of pregnant women and new mothers in the Soviet Union. I was just learning and the cataloging copy I found had a single subject heading: “Women–Soviet Union”. Not incorrect but in essence useless. In my opinion, this just shows sloppiness, lack of caring and perhaps lack of time. I had to add quite a few subject headings. http://email@example.com/msg02179.html
I cannot believe that in your record, it is a thoughtless, uncaring oversight but a conscious omission. The question is: why?
I can imagine three possible reasons:
- the cataloger did not have enough time to add another subject heading
- the cataloger did not want to add the subject heading
- as a cataloger suggested to me (off-line): fear.
Let us consider:
1) the cataloger did not have enough time to add another subject heading. (These comments apply to the original edition (1999) because when the later edition came out, the cataloger obviously just copied everything, changed the information for the newer edition and got credit on his/her statistics for an original record with just a couple minutes of work) This does not ring true to me, since it is only one subject heading and although it may not have been perfect (do I use “Lesbianism” or “Homosexuality”?), something could be made more or less quickly.
But, reason 3) fear, may have played a part. When I read the discussion in the thesis and saw the word “genderqueer”, I confess it was something new to me. When I looked it up in Wikipedia and found many other words that I do not understand, I realized that entering this area without some level of expertise risked making a mortal insult to someone, and I can imagine a cataloger thinking: This is too difficult so instead of making a terrible mistake, I prefer to ignore it. Although I do not consider this the correct decision, I can certainly sympathize with someone coming to such a conclusion and I cannot condemn it. In this sense, it would be like expecting me to catalog a book on a topic that I do not understand at all, such as Islamic theology. What do I do? Just not do it or risk making some outrageous error? While a cataloger can always obtain the expertise on his or her own or ask someone, it takes far more time to do so and that is when “cataloger’s judgment” plays a part. Therefore, not having adequate time, and fear of making a major error are linked.
That leaves reason 2) the cataloger did not want to add the subject heading. Was this for moral or religious reasons, or what? We can only speculate, but the ALA Code of Ethics states clearly:
“VII. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.” http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
Your example shows why this particular part of the Code is so very important. The record for this book shows a type of censorship because for whatever reason, this book cannot be found under one of its major topics. It is difficult to imagine that it was just an oversight.