ACAT ALIENS as a Subject Heading, why is it considered to be offensive?

Posting to Autocat

On 16/07/2014 3.19, Elena Stuart wrote:

The term ALIENS is a Library of Congress Subject Heading which covers “persons who are not citizens of the country in which they reside.” It seems like a neutral term. I am doing a paper for an MLIS class on Subject Analysis and we are discussing how the LOC changes Subject Headings. In reviewing this Subject Heading it seems to cover both positive and negative aspects of the term Alien. I am a recent immigrant to the US from Russia and am therefore an alien and do not find this term offensive, but I understand that many do. Some would like the LOC to change this Subject Heading to something else.

In addition to the other comments, I also want to emphasize how cataloging no longer exists in a vacuum, and that it is highly important today to look at other tools that the public uses all of the time, and primarily Wikipedia, which in many ways, works much better than our catalogs. In Wikipedia, there is the wonderfully-named Disambiguation Page for Alien When our catalogs work correctly, you can get similar results, but you must search them in 19th-century fashion like a card catalog, with a left-anchored text search, which nobody does, e.g. (subject) (name) (title)

Another very interesting point I just discovered is when I search “aliens” as a keyword in Wikipedia, it takes me directly to “alien” plus at the very bottom, there are: “All pages beginning with Alien; All pages with titles containing Alien”.

The disambiguation pages, while very nice, often don’t give you RT, NT, BT, but you do get them on the page for “Alien (Law)” where you can click on the Categories, in this case, “Immigration law, Legal categories of people, Expatriates.” That could stand improvement.

Another consideration is with full-text. If someone is interested in researching the history of African-Americans or gays, then searching today’s terms “African-Americans” or “Gays” won’t get you very far. That is because those are not the words used in documents before 20 years ago or so. The terms used in the 19th century may offend us today, but no matter–if people want to research those topics, they have absolutely no choice except to use those terms. It’s a different world.

The age-old problem of choosing words that may occur to people (or not), or that may offend, may gradually disappear as linked data appears and everyone begins to worry more about adding the “correct” URI instead of the “correct” string of characters. I, for one, would be very happy about that. In my experience, I have discovered that almost no matter what I might say, even something like, “I love my cats” or “I like hot dogs” I have no doubt that I said will make someone, somewhere, angry. Some people get offended by the very sight–or existence–of something else.

If the over-riding factor is never ever to offend anyone, that is simply an impossibility and anyone trying to live like that would make his or her life completely unbearable. Here in Rome, I see and hear things all the time that offend me but people are accepting (mostly) so that relative peace and harmony can prevail. At least, as much as it can in Rome!