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?

Discoveries in LC Authorities

JusticeIf anyone has been following my Twitter feed recently, I’ve been posting updates as I finish individual heading pages for my compendium of (at last count) 879 LGBTQ-related Library of Congress subject headings. It’s the continuation of a research project that I started last fall for one of my cataloging courses on which I’ll be writing a paper once all of the analysis of the data is complete.

It’s intense.

One of the delights to come out of this project has been recording the bibliographic references in the 670 note fields in the authority records. This evening I came across one for the heading “Sodomy–Religious aspects,” a reference to a 1997 book by Notre Dame scholar Mark D. Jordan titled The invention of sodomy of Christian theology.

An excerpt from the Library Journal review on the Amazon page:

[Jordan] examines paradoxes in the moral teaching on sexuality, especially the theological context for same-sex genital acts, by exploring the history of Christian writings. Eleventh-century theologian Peter Damian coined the term sodomy in relation to the word blasphemy in an abstracted analogy to the sin of denying God through homoerotic desires.

And from Kirkus Reviews:

Although the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is at least as old as the book of Genesis, the view of sodomy as a form of sexual sin seems to have been invented in the 11th century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian. Jordan (Medieval Institute/Notre Dame Univ.) restates the now generally accepted view that the sin leading to Sodom’s destruction was transgression of the laws of hospitality rather than same-sex intercourse per se, and he gives some very relevant philosophical warnings about using centuries-old texts to find answers to modern questions.

From the Wikipedia page on Peter Damian’s Book of Gomorrah, it sounds as if Damian was just as obsessed with the private sex lives of his contemporaries as many conservative, evangelical Christians are today (although it also sounds like there is a long tradition of people looking the other way when it comes to Catholic priests abusing vulnerable boys).

This story may be one of the roots of the Church’s (and Western civilization’s) long history of persecuting gay people, and (until recently) of the sad legacy of anti-gay bias in the LC.

Language matters… as does justice.