With the implementation of various DEI related initiatives within the library itself concerning hiring, programming, and collection development, focus is also being laid on the library’s catalog. Many institutions of all sizes are leading the charge to change subject terms that are problematic within their local communities. Projects originally started with “Illegal aliens” and are shifting to other term sets such as those related to Indigenous peoples, individuals with disabilities, various socio-economic conditions, as well as adding other terminology to improve inclusivity to other groups of people. These various terms are not always able to be changed within the Library of Congress Authority file, so workarounds are needed to meet the needs of the community. We can help!
1. Question: Why should I consider introducing inclusive terms?
Two main reasons: inclusivity and discoverability. Many LCSH terms are outdated and offensive and no longer reflect how communities consider themselves. Updating subject headings to positive language and preferred terms fosters inclusivity within your catalog and community. Since users don’t identify with these outdated terms searches with current language and topics will not be discovered. Revising these terms in your ILS ensures that your diverse holding is discoverable by your users, creating better access to your materials.
2. Question: What terms should I consider addressing?
Prior to December 2021 one of the major sets of terms that institutions were addressing internally were ways that Noncitizens were being described. The Library of Congress was finally able to make a change to describe Noncitizens in a less offensive way, however, some institutions do not fully approve the result. Some institutions are still incorporating their own local practice to remove the term “illegal” from the remaining LC Headings.
There have been multiple requests across the country (and globally) to better represent Indigenous peoples as well. There is a push to “decolonize” the catalog by removing/changing terms that were originally assigned by the colonizers.
There has been a sharp increase in interest in also incorporating terms for the LGBTQ+ community. LC’s authority file is quite limited when it comes to providing terms to better describe the community; Homosaurus is a vocabulary that is gaining popularity within the cataloging community to help improve discovery of pertinent collections.
As time goes on, there will likely be more and more term-sets that institutions continue to change to better serve their patrons through inclusivity and more comprehensive search options.
3. Question: What are the mechanics that some institutions are using to enact the change?
4. Question: What options do I have of changing the terms once I decide how to change them?
5. Question: If I have future authority control processing, will my new preferred terms be overwritten?
No! If a new term is ADDED to your record, you could code the field (or the indicators) in such a way to omit them for Authority Control processing. If you are REPLACING the original term with the use of a Local Authority Record, your authority control vendor will be sure to keep this “local” file as the first source for searching which will bypass any searching against LC. Additionally, these will also receive an indicator change to denote them as “local”.
6. Question: If an LC Authority record is used to build the local authority record, will I receive those updates?
This is our ultimate desire but we’re not quite there! With Backstage’s current Indigenous file, yes, you will receive updates that we create. Backstage is working on a process to be able to pull in the updates that LC issues while retaining your preferred terms within the Local authority.
7. Question: How can Backstage help me start thinking about which terms to change within a specific problematic group?
Backstage has two spreadsheets to inform you of our recommended changes for Indigenous peoples as well as Undocumented immigrants/Noncitizens. These spreadsheets contain the LCCN + the LC Heading. If you would like to make your own changes to these spreadsheets prior to conversion, you may download them and add or remove terms as you see fit; just provide us with the same information plus your preferred terms. If you have other term-sets you’d like to change, let us know and we’ll see what we can do about coming up with a spreadsheet of recommendations. Or, if you have your own, please feel free to provide it!
8. Question: When determining preferred terms for Indigenous Peoples, is anyone working directly with the tribes/nations to determine what the preferred term should be?
This really is a wonderful idea, and we hope that eventually Backstage and its library partners can move into a second phase of the initiative to do this. However, due to timing, we have focused phase one on going through and creating a list of potential community names – we’d like to have a “starting place” for our clients, and our Authorities Librarian has put a lot of effort into creating this foundation. We recognize that the time needed to identify contact information for all parties will be immense. If anyone wants to participate in helping identify and making contact to better the fidelity of these terms, we’d be more than happy to have the help! We have a Google Sheet with some instructions and the foundational list. To collaborate in this way, please message us via our Contact Us page and we can share our progress.
Any librarian will tell you that subject headings are more than just descriptive terms in library metadata...
Your library can send powerful messages about how you value readers as individuals, especially if your collection acknowledges and respects the diversity of your local community.
Backstage’s authority control service currently has options to control headings from 18 authority files. How many of these can be found in your library’s catalog?
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