Re: [ACAT] Amelia Koford’s Research on LC Subject Headings Which She Reported on at ACRL

Posting to Autocat

On 25/04/2013 23:51, Frank Newton wrote:

I have been trying to defend LC subject headings for some time now, to other catalogers and to reference librarians, as a topic which deserves to be included in advanced library instruction (see the references to some of my E-mails on this subject, below below my name).

Imagine my surprise when I found a kindred spirit at the ACRL national conference in Indianapolis earlier this month: Amelia Koford of Texas Lutheran University, who presented poster #20 in the first session of posters on Thursday morning, April 11th under the title of _”I’m Forced to Use Those Words”: How Disability Studies Scholars Interact with Subject Headings_. She reported on a qualitative research project she had undertaken in which she interviewed some library users who were doing in-depth research and getting their hands dirty with Library of Congress Subject Headings…

Thanks for sharing this. I found the thesis online: and glanced at it. The reaction about seeing the subjects was interesting from one researcher, “I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a close look at them.” (p. 58)

One part (beginning p. 62) is where she discusses the subject headings assigned to the book “Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation” with the author, Eli Clare. That is unique, so far as I know, and makes me want to consider doing the same with some authors I know who would be willing to discuss such matters. It is an excellent idea.

The LC subject headings for this book are:

  • Clare, Eli
  • Women political activists—United States—Biography
  • Cerebral palsied—United States—Biography

and there is a very interesting discussion of what the author thought of these headings. For instance, the author believed that this was not a biography although from my reading of the covers and blurbs, and glancing through parts of it available in Amazon, I think I would have considered it a biography. Assigning “Biography” certainly does not seem incorrect and although I can’t see the entire book, it seems that autobiographical information accounts for more than 20%.

For the “disability” part, the cataloger chose the more specific “Cerebral palsied” (a strange term, as discussed in the thesis) instead of the more general “People with disabilities”.
The hierarchical/classified arrangement is:
> People with disabilities 
>> Developmentally disabled 
>>> Cerebral palsied

Although the author has cerebral palsy, he objected to it and seemed to prefer a less-specific term since this book is not specifically about cerebral palsy. My own opinion is that this seems to be a judgment call on the part of the cataloger, and I think the cataloger’s choice was perfectly valid.

The only places I find fault here is ignoring the “queerness” aspect which is obvious in the book as well as in the title but completely ignored in the subjects. That part needs to be reflected in the subject headings. It also turns out that the author had a sex change and is now a man, although when written, the author was still a woman, so therefore the “Women political activists” should not be changed. Political activity seems highly obvious from the book as well, so I would think that “Cerebral palsied” or “People with disabilities” (whichever is chosen) should have a subdivision “Political activity”, which would make for a more coherent subject analysis.

Otherwise, not bad.

Comparing this with Amazon, we see a long list:

  • Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Memoirs
  • Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Women
  • Books > Gay & Lesbian > Biographies & Memoirs
  • Books > Gay & Lesbian > Literature & Fiction > Fiction > Gay
  • Books > Gay & Lesbian > Nonfiction > Activism
  • Books > Literature & Fiction > Essays & Correspondence > Essays
  • Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Criticism & Theory
  • Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Movements & Periods
  • Books > New, Used & Rental Textbooks > Humanities > Literature
  • Books > New, Used & Rental Textbooks > Social Sciences > Gay & Lesbian Studies
  • Books > Parenting & Relationships > Special Needs
  • Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Specific Demographics > Disabled
  • Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Specific Demographics > Gay & Lesbian

These are everywhere, from Gay fiction to Special needs parenting to used textbooks in literature! But aside from some of these weird subjects we see here, we find the same basic concepts: women, activists, gay, disabled, biography.

In Google books, we see the LC subjects combined with some that come from I don’t know where:

Biography & Autobiography / General
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Biography & Autobiography / Women
Cerebral palsied
Cerebral palsied – United States
Cerebral palsied/ United States/ Biography
Clare, Eli
Health & Fitness / Diseases / Nervous System (incl. Brain)
Nature / Ecology
Social Science / Gay Studies
Social Science / Gender Studies
Social Science / Lesbian Studies
Social Science / People with Disabilities
Social Science / Women’s Studies
Women political activists
Women political activists – United States
Women political activists/ United States/ Biography

These are less outrageous than the Amazon subjects. The “Gay/Gender/Lesbian/etc. Studies” seems to be extremely loosely connected with this specific book, which does not seem to be about those subjects but may be interesting to people who are studying those subjects.

Just thought I would share this analysis.