The LCSH and “Illegal Aliens”

The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) comprise a thesaurus of subject headings, maintained by the United States Library of Congress, for use in bibliographic records. LC Subject Headings are an integral part of bibliographic control, which is the function by which libraries collect, organize and disseminate documents. LCSHs are applied to every item within a library’s collection, and facilitate a user’s access to items in the catalog that pertain to similar subject matter.

Recently, there was a debate on the subject heading “illegal aliens”. In the controversy, the law makers didn’t agree to eliminate the term “illegal aliens”, while the unauthorized immigrants such as Ms. Padilla at Dartmouth University believed that this term was pejorative. Even though the Library of Congress agreed with Ms. Padilla’s argument, promising they would make a change, the lawmakers accused the Library of Congress, saying that using other words would belittle the immigration law.

In my point of view, there is no reason for the government to overruling subject-heading decisions made by the Library of Congress through legislation. People in America advocate equal and democracy. But the term “aliens” is definitely not an equal word to describe human beings. I totally agree that instead of “aliens”, it would be better to use “unauthorized” or “illegal immigrants”.

Since I am not a native America, I probably cannot tell other questionable subject headings. However, I believe that it is definitely necessary for the Library of Congress to eliminate offensive terms and prevent the creation of new ones. Thus, investigations are necessary. It could be online questionnaire or anything. Whenever the Library of Congress finds a large number of people questioning the same subject headings, they should rethink if the term is appropriate.


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