ACAT A Fight Over ‘Aliens’

Posting to Autocat

On 6/24/2016 4:47 PM, Laurence S. Creider wrote:

Aaron Kuperman, who AFAIK is hardly a card-carrying left-winger but is a conscientious civil servant, has demonstrated the problems with the heading “Illegal aliens” and its relatives. The question is how to find a replacement that works better than the ones proposed by LoC. Could you make some positive suggestions on how to improve the problem within the parameters of current systems? The art of successfully managing change (actually managing just about anything) is finding the most functional and least objectionable option that is workable within the environment in which one is operating. Diagnosis of the problem is fairly straightforward, at least in a university. Finding a workable and useful solution is much harder.

I certainly understand that finding a solution may be more difficult than recognizing the problem, and maybe not. When the proposed solution takes something that at least works for the moment, but changes it in fundamental ways and then expect people to do something that 99% will never do: make 3 different searches where a single one works right now, I feel that as a professional I am obligated to stand up and say that the proposed solution is unfair to the users of the catalog and simply doesn’t work. Saying such things rarely makes you popular though.

I already have suggested some solutions but it must be recognized that no matter what heading we choose–or if it stays the same–somebody, somewhere will get angry. The “Illegal aliens” discussion demonstrates this very clearly.

I’ll do the suggestions again, based on Google Trends:

Again checking Google Trends for “illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, undocumented aliens, noncitizens” (

We see that #1 by far is “illegal immigrants”. Behind that comes “Illegal aliens” and coming up is “undocumented immigrants”. “Noncitizens” of any form doesn’t make it on the chart.

To get a better understanding, I checked for various usages of “noncitizens”: noncitizens, undocumented noncitizens, illegal noncitizens ( and found the the latter two don’t make it on the chart.

Finally, I added “undocumented immigrants” to get a better comparison (

From this very short analysis, we could conclude that “illegal immigrants” would be the most useful heading for the public, followed by “illegal aliens” and “undocumented immigrants”. We could create the heading “Undocumented noncitizens” which is the most benign, but also the weirdest of all because it defines a group by what it is not. (Un- and non-)

But from the analysis, we can also conclude that “noncitizens” in any form is not used by the public at large. Since the purpose of the proposed change is to eliminate the word “illegal” I would propose changing to “Undocumented immigrants” even though I fully realize that this is not a good term and does not fully describe “the group of people that finds themselves in any country, through whatever reasons, within a jurisdiction where they are at risk of being arrested and deported.” (See my recent posting on different kinds of “aliens/noncitizens” that are in a country)

It’s far from perfect but at least it would retain a single search, so people might use it, and it would avoid at least some of the political issues of the heading. I am fully aware that the conservative members of the Congressional committee want specifically to retain “illegal” in the heading, and there is the nub.

This is one of those issues that may be solved by technology and the implementation of linked data, so that one heading can display in many ways. But we have to confess that there have been these kinds of solutions available for a long time and they have not been implemented.