This news may come as a surprise for those who read this blog because a great majority of the writings here I have originally sent to Autocat. I have been active on that list for several years. Yet, I have decided to unsubscribe. Why?
I began a discussion about a topic that I felt was highly important: the LC proposal to change the subject heading Illegal aliens into two headings: Noncitizens and Undocumented immigration. The proposed change had even been discussed in the US Congress, apparently something that had never happened before. I had originally wanted to send a reply to the New York Times, which also discussed the change in an editorial (!) and led me to write the post, but I decided that my reply was too technical and preferred to send it to Autocat.
In short, I said that changing headings happen all the time, but I claimed that the proposed change would actually make it much more difficult for people to find materials on that topic. For more information see the original post.
The reaction on the list was puzzling. While there was genuine dialog on the topic, some became angry and then a few others called for those carrying on the discussion to stop because they were tired of it, although we were right in the midst of the discussion. I found, and still find this attitude very strange. It seems to me that so long as people are making substantive points, i.e. not adding simply Idiot! or +1 or -1, like on Facebook or Twitter, but are making genuine contributions, and doing so in a civil fashion, then the discussion should continue. For those who are uninterested in a topic, it is very easy to delete any email they receive, or set the email program to delete entire threads or even all postings from any individual, automatically. Very often, I delete posts that are uninteresting to me but I don’t try to silence others because I find that deleting their messages is too much trouble.
At one point, the moderators said that we could no longer continue the discussion on the list. I questioned the decision, pointed out how the discussion had gotten very interesting, but nevertheless, I stopped posting to the list.
A few days later, I received an email from the moderators who said that I would be placed on “review” that is, all of my messages would be filtered through them before being sent on to the list. I asked where in my posts that I had written anything objectionable, but was told there was nothing objectionable, I just hadn’t gone silent when told to.
That is when I decided to unsubscribe from Autocat since I was being punished for doing nothing wrong. In fact, I felt I was maintaining high professional standards.
At such a difficult time in the profession, it is truly unfortunate that this is what the cataloging world is coming to. How will issues be discussed that are far more divisive and that have far greater consequences than just a heading change? After all, I am sure everyone realizes there are lots of such issues in cataloging. Will those issues too be shut down because some find the discussions too troubling or too boring?
I will continue to contribute to other lists that are more welcoming to me and continue this blog. I may become more active on Twitter also.