On Jan 22, 2021, at 10:53 AM, Stephen Early <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
My own view is that consistency in choosing what is and is not an appropriate heading is difficult to achieve since it really isn’t possible to determine in advance which terms are going to become outmoded in the future. It is also difficult to determine in advance which outmoded terms are simply “quaint” (and can be retained at least temporarily) and which have become genuinely pejorative (and need to go ASAP).
I believe that if a strong consensus develops that a term is pejorative and hurtful, that consensus should be listened to and a decision made.
At CRL, after reviewing the matter and consulting with colleagues at Dartmouth, we recently locally changed all instances of Illegal aliens in our ILS to Undocumented immigrants.
A documentary on what led to the move to change the Illegal Aliens subject headings can be accessed here:
But the term was not always an exclusively legal term; or, even if it was, it was well recognized that it was an acceptable term to use for human beings. Either that, or Sting in 1987 was being bigoted when he recorded “Englishman in New York.”
The issue is that terminology changes. As someone who has lived in different countries in my life I have been an “alien.” I even had the documentation to prove it!
Unfortunately, this issue runs far deeper than the “illegal aliens” issue, and focusing on this one heading may not be the best way to approach the problem. The biggest problem with using the term “alien” is that it is not what our patrons use, end of discussion. We may not like the term, but if it is the term our patrons are likely to use to find what they need to find, we need to include that term.
But LCSH is full of terms that are not used. For a less political example, Epidemics instead of Pandemics. Thankfully, they recognized this problem and added a cross reference for Pandemics, but that does not help the many libraries that don’t have sufficient or up-to-date authority control (not that changing the term would help such libraries, either.) There’s also the issue of what terms are regarded as proper. Most Americans would probably know to search for “Native Americans” if they want “Indians of North America” but Canadians would probably search for “First Nations” unless the term has changed since I lived there over 15 years ago.
Tl;dr: Aliens at one time was an acceptable and recognized term for human beings residing in a country not their own. It isn’t any more, at least not in North America. This heading should be changed, but we also need consistent changes to other headings, even ones that don’t offend people, as usage changes.
Assistant Professor and Monographic Cataloger
Mississippi State University
I really hope that the library community will repudiate the idea that “aliens” as a term for human beings belonged in LCSH because that is the term as written into US law.
It might have entered the thesaurus as a legal term, once upon a time. But LCSH is a general thesaurus. A legal term got used and re-used because LCSH is unwieldly, precedent-bound, and, until recently, the overhead for making changes to bibliographic records was exorbitant.
“Aliens” appears entirely out of a legal context, over and over: Aliens in literature!? Aliens in motion pictures!?
This was always a disservice to library users.
It is more subtle, but applying “Illegal aliens” to works about the social and family lives, to the literature, or to the economic struggles of undocumented people – these works were never “legal” treatises and the legal term was never of use. This was also always a disservice to library users, especially to users who were seeking themselves in the library.
So, this is my plea: let’s not ever say the term in LCSH needs to change because the language of *US law* is changing. Please emphasize that LCSH: this old, unwieldly, high-use resource, needs updating routinely. That outdated and repudiated ideas get perpetuated by our infrastructure, and we need to maintain it, and that LOC should be given huge credit for having attempted to the change several years ago.
Collections Services Archivist for Metadata, Standards, and Systems
Harvard University Archives
I’d totally welcome the changes.
Anchalee (Joy) Panigabutra-Roberts
Head of Cataloging
The University of Tennessee Libraries
I agree as well. We have a new Administration and both houses of Congress are in more sympathetic party alignment. The CNN article further supports this. It seems like the right time.
As a former Alien-- Legal status I fully support this.
On Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 4:16 PM Matthew C. Haugen <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Especially since the use of the term "Alien" in U.S. laws was a central argument about why the LC could not change the terms, there may already be some news on that front:
On Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 3:35 PM Panchyshyn, Roman <[log in to unmask]> wrote:<image004.gif>
Just saying, with the new administration coming in, might this not be a good time to revisit the use of the heading “Illegal aliens” by LC?
Roman S. Panchyshyn, MLIS
Associate Professor, Head of Metadata and Cataloging
Kent State University Libraries
e-mail: [log in to unmask]