Controversial Subject Heading


Library of Congress subject headings are a controlled vocabulary used for indexing, cataloging, and searching for bibliographic records in a great number of databases. Librarians and researchers use these words to search for a wide range of material including government documents, scholarly journals, and many other forms of published work. A current controversy surrounding these subject headings is one entitled, “illegal alien.” This term has been repeatedly found to be pejorative by a number of immigrant rights advocates and was even contested as a subject heading in the Library of Congress. In Aguilera’s, Another Word for ‘Illegal Alien’ at the Library of Congress: Contentious, she describes how originally the Library’s administration agreed on terms such as “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigration” as better alternatives, but Congress quickly enacted a provision to shut them down. They required the library to retain the terminology used in federal law, including the word ‘alien’. While sticking to legal terminology is definitely important, I find this ruling to be slightly excessive. Marginalizing an entire class of people through a term that many people find to be degrading has no place in American politics, and should be cast aside. After all, this nation was founded on the success of immigrants. Another fairly questionable subject heading that can be found in this database, is “God-History of Doctrines”. In Jeffrey Beall’s essay, he describes this clear violation of political correctness by explaining the cultural degradation of assigning all Christian works under this title. Not only does it assume that the default search is for Christianity, but it also places an inherent bias towards this religion. Others, such as Judaism, must be labeled separate from this original heading. In order to avoid these controversies I suggest that the Library of Congress adopt a separate committee to judge the titles and vote on headings that are culturally inclusive.