ACAT New Bill Will Require Library of Congress to Continue Use of ‘Illegal Alien’ in Subject Headings

Posting to Autocat

On 4/14/2016 12:01 AM, Kuperman, Aaron wrote:
1. I wouldn’t take it seriously. Unless introduced by the leadership of the majority party, bills rarely get taken seriously.
2. “Aliens” is being replaced by “Noncitizens” because many people without legal training confuse the term with immigrants. In the US, many aliens are students, tourists, temporary workers or stateless refugees. In many countries, most aliens are native born people with the misfortune to have been born in a country that bases citizenship on ancestry rather than birth. Not to mention confusing “aliens” with “extraterrestials”. The switch to non-legalese is politically correct from both sides of the aisle.
3. The term is “legal”, and in law cataloging was rarely used since authors write books on the status of “aliens”, and it is for the user, usually for a fee, to tell the client or the court what is or is not legal, and how to proceed from that determination. The K schedule doesn’t even use the term, and most of the non-K use of the term in LCSH was probably mistaken (they should have been writing about “immigrants” rather than “aliens”).

I understand the reasons for the change, and each person can have his or her own opinion about the change, but that wasn’t my question. My question was: has an LC heading ever before become a political concern in Congress? (Other than the US government officially recognizing certain countries, or not, and LC cataloging practice reflecting those policies) The reason I am interested is that this could signal a change in public sentiment toward our traditional cataloging practice. Such a change should be expected as our records and methods leave the confines of our libraries and merge into the much wider world of “metadata” and “linked data” and it should be obvious that there will be consequences. People who have never been involved with cataloging will see things that they will consider not only silly ( but will make them angry for whatever reason, and they might take exception to some of our methods, just as Rep. Black has.

I can think of a similar case, off the top of my head. Here in Europe is the sensitive topic of labeling persons fleeing from wars in the Middle East as “migrants” or “refugees”. Also, exactly when does a “refugee” become a “migrant”? Opinions on all sides are strongly held and there are serious implications for adopting any particular side. (

I think it is of utmost importance for cataloging to avoid these political mine-fields. The basic purpose of any heading is to group similar materials together no matter how someone may think of it. It is the exact opposite of the “filter bubble” (and I think may offer its solution). I may think of something in ways that may make someone else very angry, and the terms that person prefers may make me angry. But in the catalog we should see pretty much the same grouping of materials when we search. If there is any advantage of a catalog over a search engine, it must be this.

There are indeed, labels that are “wrong”, but it becomes increasingly difficult to say what is “right”. In the physical catalogs (cards and books) the label and the grouping were necessarily tied together. But with databases, the grouping is done with a “primary key” and with linked data, a grouping requires a single URI. Today, the human-readable label attached to those primary keys and URIs *can* vary enormously–although as yet, we haven’t seen this happen very often.

In spite of my skepticism of linked data, it is my hope that linked data may help put an end to the tired, old problem of determining a single “preferred form” that everyone is forced to see and actively use if they want to search for information. Eventually, the idea of a single “authorized form” or “preferred form” will have to be rethought, as selecting a single form becomes more and more politically charged.