The power of subject heading

Subject heading is a set of terms or phrases (known as controlled vocabulary) that classify materials. Librarians and researchers always use subject heading to locate the documentary they look for, because subject heading is identical to catalog that helps readers to grasp the idea more easily.

The power of subject heading can strongly mislead readers and users thought and idea. The article “Another Word for ‘Illegal Alien’ at the Library of Congress: Contentious” by Jasmine Aguilera in the NYT illustrates the power of subject words.

The word “illegal alien” is full of controversy. The stakeholders of this controversy are different group of people. Politicians need a strict word to describe people who violates the law. However, people like Ms. Padilla who have already earned the citizenship can be harmed by this word. In the article,Ms. Padilla said “When ugly, belittling names are used to describe groups of people, those terms can make discrimination seem O.K.” From my perspective, her quote is thought-provoking. Government should not over regulate subject headings in order to reach their own political benefit. Admittedly, a country sometimes need a single voice in order to avoid chaos and to not become divided. However, what I think is more important is that people should speak and express their idea in a more free environment, and especially under the situation of racial discrimination. A country might be torn apart because of the discrimination. Thus, government should hear the voices and initiatives from minority group. Considering the powerful subject heading, government and politician should be careful so that they can not hurt the feelings of minority like Ms. Padilla.

For those who can edit the subject headings in Library of Congress, they should always stay neutral. And the suggestion is offered by William E. Studwell: “In any case, LC must strive to provide the most clearly understood and most useful system they can. And they should do so not only for the benefit of cataloger, but also for the world as whole.” Obviously, in order to eliminate misunderstanding, Library of Congress should follows the rules and regard the benefit of readers as most important.

Reference:

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/23/us/another-word-for-illegal-alien-at-the-library-of-congress-contentious.html
  2. https://books.google.com/books?id=tFtg1B0t1l4C&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=questionable+subject+headings&source=bl&ots=SasfpkQZ4h&sig=HaifJyh0nmapOStO4WMk7ob55pw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2j9io9KnQAhVL7CYKHYQTC-4Q6AEIGzAA#v=onepage&q=questionable%20subject%20headings&f=false