What about “Citizens”?

Posting to Autocat

On 4/15/2016 11:49 PM, John Gordon Marr wrote:

The problem is more with how one approaches agreement, e.g., Rep. Black’s proposal tries to force everyone to agree with her.

“Librarians shouldn’t get involved in these arguments. We have no special insight into “objectivity.” I must heartily disagree. One prominent principal of cataloging is to be objective, that is, to not be subjective (i.e. insert one’s personal opinions into the records we create, including subject headings). It is for that very reason that catalogers have the right and responsibility to participate in political discussions for the purpose of identifying and objecting to political subjectivity (i.e. self-obsession).

These are the points I would like to address. First, it seems to me that if someone is free–and encouraged–to protest the use of certain headings such as “Illegal aliens” for whatever reasons they have, then it also follows that someone else can just as strenuously be able to disagree with them and want “Illegal aliens”. In the case of Rep. Black, she would probably say that LC has decided to do something that she, and the people she represents, disagree with. Therefore, she should be free to say that, and actually should be encouraged just as much as those who dislike “Illegal aliens”. The difference is that she has introduced a bill into Congress. She, as a legally elected representative, can do that, but that is why I was asking if anyone knows of anything like this happening before. I don’t know of anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is only the beginning of a trend.

Concerning the second point, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. It is my view that catalogers are absolutely NOT objective because objectivity is impossible for any human being. I don’t even know what that would mean. Catalogers work on the principle of describing an item according to the way the item describes itself. I have discussed this at some length before (https://blog.jweinheimer.net/2015/10/acat-hate-literature-2.html), but to summarize: if an item describes itself as a treatise on freedom, but during cataloging, my interpretation is that it is obviously a subtle treatise on slavery, then when I am making the catalog record I cannot describe it as anything other than a treatise on freedom. I cannot describe the item as a treatise on slavery. Why? Because that is how it describes itself. This cannot be considered an objective stance since the attitude of authors towards their own works is anything but objective. But it is the stance a cataloger must take. Therefore, there can be no “objective” stance, unless I consider my own view to be objective–and that is absurd.

This happened to me all the time in the past with books from the former Soviet Union that claimed to be about “anti-communist propaganda” but they were very obviously “anti-American propaganda”. I had to use heading “Propaganda, Anti-communist”.

Of course, if I do a blog post or if my catalog allows user comments or reviews, then I am free to share my opinion and say that it is really a treatise on slavery. That may become an important part of cataloging someday, but I hope it will be only an additional task, and the practice of describing an item as the author describes it remains. It is one part of what libraries provide that make libraries different from other resources on the web (advertising, blog posts, Facebook likes, Google PageRank, and so on).