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?

4.1% of Americans now identify as LGBTQ

Findings from a Gallup poll out a few days ago suggest that the total population of adults in the United States who identify as LGBTQ has risen to over 10 million, or 4.1%. This number is up from 3.5% in 2012.

That is a pretty statistically significant bump.

Key findings from the poll include that the number of millennials who identify as LGBTQ+ has risen from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016, and that more women are identifying this way now than previously.

From a LIS perspective, this raises the question of what the percentage of our public library collections are also LGBTQ-related – and clearly so.

Last year, LGBTQ+ books dominated the ALA’s banned books list, according to a PinkNews article, with nearly half of the list having LGBTQ themes as the reason the books were challenged.

The first major census research on the estimate size of the LGBT Americans was conducted in the early 1990s by organizations such as the Kinsey Institute, the CDC (via the American National Health Interview Survey), and the groundbreaking research done by sociologist Edward Laumann in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The problem with these early studies is that they suffered from the phenomenon of under-reporting. Shame, social stigma, and the danger of legal ramifications kept most LGBTQ+ people in the closet, so it was difficult to get a clear picture of the true size and shape of the population. Even now, in many places social pressure and stigma still keep many people from openly identifying and reporting as LGBTQ+.

Let’s look briefly at some other demographic data.

In 2011, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans of Asian descent made up 5.8% of the total population.

The Steinhardt Social Research Institute estimates that in 2015 the total Jewish population in the United States was over 7 million (around 2.2% of the total U. S. population). Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that only 0.7% of the population was Buddhist; the same for Hindus.

Point is, most libraries would never hesitate to include or catalog books based on their ethnic, racial, or religious content. And yet it’s difficult to get an accurate number of books in a public library collection that have LGBTQ themes or content.

4.1% is a sizable chunk of the U. S. population, and it’s time that librarians stopped being afraid to include those books in their collections.