Casual Racism in Classification

I stumbled across this class heading on ClassWeb today while cataloging a book of poetry by a Haitian American author. It disgusts me that this type of racist mentality still exists in the Library of Congress catalog, but sadly, it’s hardly surprising.

Turns out, that .N3-N5 number extension is everywhere. (Netanel Ganin wrote a great blog post about this very issue.)

Headings such as:

  • BF432.N5: Psychology—Consciousness. Cognition—Intelligence. Mental ability. Intelligence testing. Ability testing—By specific group of people, A-Z—Negroes. Blacks. African Americans
  • F1035.N3: British America—Canada—Elements in the population—Negroes. Blacks
  • PN1995.9.N4: Drama—Motion pictures—Other special topics, A-Z—Negroes. Blacks. African Americans

Short of literally occupying the Library of Congress in protest and demanding they fix these class headings (and, as a colleague of mind pointed out when I showed this to her, not all black people are African American, such as the author of that book of poetry), how are we as librarians (and catalogers) to supposed to respond? Because I feel that a response or action is warranted here.

Frankly, it would be an enormous, time-intensive, and costly undertaking to reclassify every .N4 book, especially when so many of us have so many priorities already. Do we reclassify items as they come into the collection? Chip away at existing items as we have time?

It seems crude to use time/resources as an excuse to shuffle this off to the ever-growing “future projects” pile, but it’s a legitimate quandary, particularly in institutions with a lone cataloger.

How do we act in lieu of waiting for LC to correct this instance of casual racism?

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