OCLC: replace FAST heading "Illegal aliens"

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In July 2014, students and librarians from Dartmouth College submitted a proposal to change the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) Illegal aliens and associated headings such as Children of illegal aliens. LC rejected that proposal in December 2014. The American Library Association (ALA) approved a resolution in January 2016 “urging the Library of Congress to change the subject heading Illegal aliens to Undocumented immigrants” (link to resolution [pdf]). In March 2016, LC announced that in response to constituent requests, they would change the Illegal aliens heading and replace it with two headings, Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration, but some Republican members of the House of Representatives objected to that decision. LC has been seeking constituent input since May 2016, but their decision seems to have been delayed indefinitely due to political concerns. (See the Cataloging News column from Cataloging and Classification Quarterly volume 54 number 7 for a timeline of recent efforts to change the heading.)

The Library of Congress has been pressured to maintain a heading which ALA Council agreed was “dehumanizing, offensive, inflammatory, and even a racial slur.” While FAST is primarily based on LCSH, there is no reason why OCLC cannot make the ethical choice that LC has been constrained from making.

The July 2016 final report from the SAC Working Group on the LCSH Illegal aliens includes a summary of thoughtful recommended LCSH changes. The report’s summary of recommendation states “This report concurs with the Library of Congress decision to change the subject heading Aliens to Noncitizens, but recommends that Illegal aliens be replaced with Undocumented immigrants where appropriate. In cases where the subject heading Illegal aliens has been assigned to works about nonimmigrants, more specific terms should be assigned.”

We understand that some manual reassignment of headings may need to occur with this change, contrary to the automated nature of FAST assignment. However, we feel this is a unique, time-sensitive case, where there is a moral imperative to replace wording which is disrespectful and harmful to many of our users. With this heading receiving national attention in venues such as The New York Times, this is an opportunity to show our users that the vocabulary we use provides “the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources” (from Section I of the ALA Code of Ethics).

We, the undersigned, request that OCLC change the FAST headings which use derogatory Illegal aliens terminology and replace them with the headings Noncitizens and Undocumented immigrants or more specific headings as recommended in the SAC report.



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