‘Illegal Aliens’ and the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress subject headings are a subject sorting language created by the Library of Congress which is controlled and used globally in many libraries. It’s also translated into many languages in order for it to be used worldwide. The Library of Congress subject headings make it easier for librarians and researchers to organize and find books in libraries. According to the Library of Congress, the subject headings can be changed by proposals from the public reviewed by staff members.


According to Aguilera, in her article Another Word for ‘Illegal Alien’ at the Library of Congress: Contentious, the history of controversy surrounding the subject heading ‘illegal alien’ stems from the Library of Congress using the term as a subject heading instead of non-citizen. Aguilera states that the term is a way to criminalize and dehumanize the actions of those who come into this country solely to work and to provide for their families. However, when the Library of Congress decided to change this subject heading, legislation was passed that ruled that the Library of Congress wasn’t allowed to change subject headings that were in line with federal law. The stakeholders in this controversy include republicans who hold a conservative interest over this topic. Aguilera states that many republicans including Lamar Smith, John Culberson, and Ted Cruz wrote a letter to the librarian of Congress to state that “the library has bowed to the political pressure of the moment” and they wanted to make sure the term would stay as a subject heading. It would benefit them to keep the term ‘illegal alien’ because it would make it easier for them to pass stricter immigration laws if people only view immigrants as criminals.

Personally, I feel the government shouldn’t have overruled subject heading decisions made by the Library of Congress through legislation. The Library of Congress is made up of professionals who should be able to decide what the public interests are and if certain language used is prerogative. I don’t believe the government should make those decisions because libraries shouldn’t be political and should only serve as places to find information regarding various topics in a non-biased way. “Illegal alien” is a political term because it expresses how foreigners are viewed in America.

Other questionable subject headings include having ‘African American Women’ and ‘Hispanic Women’ separated from ‘Women’ in general. Separating women according to race shows that theirs still a belief that the dominant race is Caucasian. The Library of Congress should enact policies that allows professionals to work more closely with more diverse groups in order to try to prevent further prerogative terms. They should also try to fight the legislation that allows the government to intervene when subject headings are changed. The Library of Congress should work harder to find non-biased subject headings rather than headings that may be political.