Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Ethics and cataloguing

Application of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
to metadata associated with items in library stock

In September 2014 I was lucky enough to attend the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference entitled: "Metadata: making an impact", at which Ruth Jenkins delivered a lightning talk "Improving subject-based metadata for LGBTQ related young adult books." At the time this was an interesting view on an area that, to my knowledge  had received little previous discussion [do let me know if you know otherwise], and was perhaps suggesting that young adults might benefit from being more easily able to discover resources that might reflect their own life experiences.  

In September 2017 the ALCTS ran an eforum entitled: “Power that is moral: cataloguing and ethics”, which was based on a session discussing cataloguing ethics at the ALA Annual Conference in June 2017. The ALA Code of Ethics was created in 1994, and ALCTS created a specific code for their members in the same year.

Up for discussion was the widespread use of LCSH in cataloguing records, how these terms are based on a Western code of ethics, and how appropriate, or otherwise, their usage is today, particularly in relation to equality.

Following up on this discussion I discovered an article about a small group of students in the US who felt that the use of the LCSH “Illegal aliens” was inappropriate. They got together with library and information professionals and were successful in persuading Library of Congress to withdraw the use of the term.

So, this term is no longer recognised in the up-to-date LC database, however, as with any changes to cataloguing and classification standards, there remains the problem of legacy records – records already in a system, which retain the use of out-of-date practices. The dilemma for most under-resourced cataloguing departments is, do we spend time amending our metadata retrospectively, and if so, how much time can we afford to divert from the cataloguing and classification of new stock. Certainly here at DMU, our previous approach has been to accept that there will always be a quantity of metadata that is outdated.

However, there are times when evidence of past practices need to be eradicated: this is one of those times.

With a view to improving our cataloguing and classification practices to better reflect current thinking and provide better access to our resources for our customers, a search was performed on the library catalogue using the term “Illegal aliens”. This search produced a disappointing 12 results, disappointing because the outcome was greater than zero.

Delving slightly deeper into the catalogue revealed that the term “Illegal aliens” was picked up by the search as it appeared as an LCSH, and as a result of these search results, cataloguers began to investigate and amend the use of this particular LCSH.

The consideration of this particular LCSH is the start of a bigger project to look at the application of subject headings more broadly, particularly in relation to equality, whilst at the same time allowing for those involved in the academic study of a discipline to still be able to identify relevant resources easily.