A new reality (not a “new normal”). How do we respond?

We librarians have a multilayered relationship to politics; as, of course, many professions do. On the one hand, we are rightly expected to be politically neutral for our patrons and communities. On the other, politics at some level–national, state, local, school, corporate–and usually several levels at once–inevitably affects the work we do. Added to this are our own views, interests, and responsibilities as private citizens.

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know that I’ve addressed politics a little but not much.  Mainly, you know I have little use for a Congress that seems to get more radical, more anti-intellectual, and more hostile to the search for objective truth and the free and open exchange of ideas with every election; and you know I have great sympathy for the librarians in particular who have to answer to that Congress. (Though, credit where credit is due, that same body did surprise me by confirming Carla Hayden as Librarian of Congress.) I’ve always understood our profession in a political context but haven’t seen the need, here, to go into it too much.

That was in normal times.  Normal times ended during the early hours of November 9.

I have been struggling since then with how I would address here the presidential election and its aftermath. This morning, one of my daughters sent me a link to Barbara Kingsolver’s recent article “Trump changed everything. Now everything counts,” and it has helped me begin to get a handle on how to come to terms with our new political reality, as a private citizen and as a librarian.

I urge  you to read the whole article. It prints out at about four pages. It is dense with thought and at the same time, as you’d expect from Kingsolver, clear and conversational. The author does not try to minimize or normalize the situation we’re in. As she says, “We just woke up in another country. … We went to bed as voters, and got up as outsiders to the program.” And at the same time, as truth intelligently stated so often is, it is bracing in its way; it brings a sense of stern and clear-eyed encouragement.

Kingsolver’s article is not, in the end, a cry of despair but a call to action, or to many actions, that each of us has the choice to take according to where we find ourselves in life:

If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. … We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

If we’re journalists, we push back against every door that closes on freedom of information. We educate our public about objectivity, why it matters, and what it’s like to work under a president who aggressively threatens news outlets and reporters.

If we’re consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news, we think about what’s true, and what we need. We reward those who are taking risks to provide it.

If we’re teachers we explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in our classrooms under a bullying season that’s already opened in my town and probably yours. Language used by a president may enter this conversation. We say wrong is wrong.

If we’re scientists we escalate our conversation about the dangers of suppressing science education and denying climate change. We shed our cautious traditions and explain what people should know. …

If we’re women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders, or if we’re their friends, partners or therapists, we acknowledge that the predatory persona of men like Trump is genuinely traumatizing. That revulsion and rage are necessary responses.

And if we’re librarians? If we’re catalogers?

That is a question we must begin to ask ourselves, and to which we must start finding and living our answers. Some of my own ideas: this would be a good time, if you can afford to, to join or renew with ALA, and start paying attention to and supporting its work in intellectual freedom and equal access for all. It would be a good time to join your state library association, if you have not done so. It would be a very good time, if you are not already a member, to join and support the American Civil Liberties Union. But those things are just a start.

I repeat: these are not normal times. Before the election, pundits were telling us how divided we are. More divided, some said, than we have been since the Civil War. Maybe. But that worry, serious as it is, seems almost quaint now. We are now, I think, the closest we have come to a one-party authoritarian state since the founding of the Republic. We librarians, we catalogers, like the journalists and artists and others Kingsolver names, have to decide how we are going to live and practice our profession in the next four years–or eight, or longer–to preserve as much as we can, and advance if we can, the open, civil society that is a fundamental premise of our work.

Two final thoughts.

First, I hope it is understood, but I will emphasize, that my thoughts and opinions here on Flaming Catheads are my own. I am not expressing, when I write here, any official position or policy of my employer, or of any organization I may belong to. If you have read every one of Ann Coulter’s books and think she is the greatest political thinker since Ayn Rand, have no fear, our selectors and collection managers buy those books and keep them in the collection by the same standards they apply to Bernie Sanders, and my cataloging team and I make sure they are accurately described, richly accessible, and waiting on the shelves for you as soon as we can get them there. If you walk into my library when I happen to be pinch-hitting at the information desk, you will get the same welcome and I will do my same level best to make you happy with your experience here, whether you are in mourning about the election, still giddy with champagne afterglow, or perfectly indifferent. This is my house here; the library is the community’s house; I know what goes where, and where the thresholds are.

Second, Flaming Catheads is not turning into a political blog. My intention is to write here about some of the smaller and some of the larger matters that concern us as catalogers and as librarians, and to keep doing so at least until I retire (which, God willing, will not be for a long time yet); and, I hope, to tempt my readers (I am taking a leap of faith by making the word plural) to join the conversation at times. You will mostly read about cataloging here. And who knows, maybe about coffee, as one of our essential resources. But at the same time we cannot afford to be silent about the kind of society in which we do our work.

~RAS

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Core Competencies for Professional Catalogers: draft document open for review

This will be old news for some of us, but just in case you haven’t heard (I was embarrassingly late seeing it myself), the ALCTS CaMMS Competencies and Education for a Career in Cataloging Interest Group has posted a draft document on cataloging competencies.  Comments can be left directly on the draft in Google Docs:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cHCaGdSEhVEban4v6BQ246k1cNn3VrYHCICFFx2DDY0/edit#heading=h.494thupekfc

I am not sure how long the review period is—any reader who knows, please chime in with a comment here.  It is worth visiting the draft even if you don’t think you will have anything to say, both for the content of the document itself and for the many comments already added.

If you are interested in the work of the Interest Group, take a look at its website.

Gender in authority work: new vocabulary for field 375, and RDA’s definition of gender

As long as we’re talking about terminology in authority records, here’s a new(ish) development:  The gender terms we have been accustomed to using in field 375 (male, female, not known) have been removed from RDA.  The current instruction at 9.7.1.3 is “Record the gender of the person, using an appropriate term in a language preferred by the agency creating the data.  Select a term from a standard list, if available.”  Currently, DZM Z1 refers to LCSH as a preferred vocabulary, but according to an email from Paul Frank, LCSH will be replaced by LCDGT in the next update.  If we are creating or editing name authority records, to keep up with PCC policy, we should start using LCDGT terms in field 375 (with $2 lcdgt).

You can access LCDGT from ClassWeb.  If you do not have ClassWeb access, you can retrieve a PDF document from the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate home page, though it will be slightly less current.  Netanel Ganin of Brandeis University has also posted the terms in a more navigable page in the style of ClassWeb, and he plans to keep his list up to date with each update.

Note that RDA defines “gender” in 9.7.1.1 as “the gender with which a person identifies.”  Fortunately, the U.S. Congress neither funds nor controls RDA, so that definition will presumably remain in force.  Besides reflecting evolving thinking on gender, it is compatible with the longstanding PCC policy of respecting a person’s preference, when known, regarding details of the authority record.  For persons who have changed their gender identity, this can result in more than one 375 term, often with dates specifying when the person began ($s) or ceased ($t) to be identified with a particular gender.  (See Carlos, Wendy and Bono, Chaz for examples, although with RDA rather than LCDGT terminology.)

(Partially cross-posted at Three Catalogers Walk Into a Blog.)

Profession/occupation terms in field 374

Adam Schiff (University of Washington) has started an interesting discussion on PCCLIST on the use in field 374 of LCSH terms that include elements other than occupation profession.  Among the examples he cites:

374    Women physicians ǂa Surgeons ǂ2 lcsh

374    African American political activists ǂ2 lcsh

374    Women translators ǂa Women missionaries ǂ2 lcsh

374    African American women singers ǂ2 lcsh

374    Mexican American musicians ǂ2 lcsh

374    Authors, Canadian ǂ2 lcsh

374    Hockey players ǂa Athletes ǂa Authors ǂa Jewish authors ǂ2 lcsh

374    Gay journalists ǂ2 lcsh

Adam continues:

If you haven’t figured out my peeve yet, it’s the inclusion of gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. in profession/occupation terms recorded in this field.    One does not go to school to study to be a woman physician or an African American poet or a gay journalist or Canadian author.  Including qualifying terms serves to segregate people of the same occupation, and I don’t think this is a good thing in authority records.  Why should women composers be labeled differently from men composers?   Shouldn’t all poets be grouped together under a single term?

Gender already has a separate field (375) that can be recorded in authority records.  If catalogers feel that religion, nationality, ethnicity or other characteristics are important to record there IS a place for it in the MARC format:

MARC field 368 (Other Attributes of Person or Corporate Body), subfield $c (Other designation).   While RDA doesn’t include provisions for recording religion, national, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other characteristics not included elsewhere in RDA instructions, 368 $c can be used for this, and has already been by some catalogers …

Besides being a reminder of good practice in constructing authority records, Adam’s post and the many thoughtful replies invite reflection on the varied uses of LCSH, including uses that no one could have conceived of when LC began compiling its subject headings in the 1890s.

The point has also been raised in the PCCLIST discussion that LCSH is not the only controlled vocabulary that can be used for 374 terms.  Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms (LCDGT) is mentioned as a possible alternative.  (For information about the LCDGT project, see LC’s Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms: Introduction and Guiding Principles for the Pilot.  Finding a copy of the terms themselves has been more of a challenge, but you might find this PDF helpful.

In practice, I expect most of us who create and edit authority records, especially most of us in general libraries in the NACO program, will continue to use LCSH terms in field 374 for the foreseeable future.  We should just remember when we do so that we are applying the terminology for a different purpose than when we assign subject headings to a bibliographic record, and that we need to use terms conveying only the facet of profession/occupation.

Let’s Play Family Feud: A Public Services/Technical Services Dialogue

Posted by Steve Shadle on the OCLC-CAT and AUTOCAT discussion lists:

Dear Colleagues,

We need you to help us “Play the Feud!”  We have prepared a very brief, voluntary, anonymous survey that explores communication challenges between Public Services and Technical Services.  The responses will be used in an ALA Annual 2016 conference program, “Let’s Play Family Feud: A Public Services/Technical Services Dialogue.”  Join us for the program (details below) to find out the most popular responses!

Survey Link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/76RZLYN

The survey will be open from 5/17/16 through 5/27/16.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

ALA Annual Conference Session: http://bit.ly/1TBk18N

Title: “Let’s Play Family Feud: A Public Services/Technical Services Dialogue”

When: Sunday, 6/26/16, 1:00-2:30PM

Where: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL, Room W304 G-H

Description:

Sometimes communicating at work can be challenging, especially between the two “families” of Technical Services and Public Services. This program will examine those challenges, “Family Feud” style. Technical Services and Public Services panelists will reveal the most popular responses to continuing resources-related “Family Feud” questions. Following the game, each panelist will discuss in greater detail the topic of each round, and we’ll end with discussion about communication and continuing resources best practices. Sponsored by ALCTS Continuing Resources Section (CRS) and RUSA Reference Services Section (RSS).

Panelists:

Lizzie Gall, Youth Services Supervisor, Grand Rapids Public Library

Lynn Jacobson, Bibliographic Systems and Access Manager, Jacksonville Public Library

Rachel Minkin, Reference Librarian, Michigan State University

Steve Shadle, Serials Access Librarian, University of Washington

Rebecca Goldfinger, Continuing Resources Librarian, University of Maryland, College Park (Moderator)

Sponsored by ALCTS Continuing Resources Section & RUSA Reference Services Section

There are still a few days left to weigh in on the survey.

Does communication with our public-service colleagues sometimes feel like a “family feud”?  (At least it’s acknowledged that we are in the same family!)  Or if you have responsibilities in both areas, as many of us do, do you ever feel a tension between the needs and priorities of your two roles?  And how do you address these issues?

More on the proposal to replace LCSH “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens”

Janis L. Young of the Policy and Standards Division, Library of Congress, has posted the following to several discussion lists:

In response to requests from constituents who consider the phrase illegal aliens to be pejorative and disappearing from common use, the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress, which maintains Library of Congress Subject Headings, has proposed that the headings Aliens and Illegal aliens both be replaced.

If approved, the heading Aliens will be replaced by Noncitizens, which is currently a Used For (UF) reference to Aliens. Illegal aliens will be replaced by two headings: Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration. Other headings that include the word aliens or the phrase illegal aliens (e.g., Church work with aliens; Children of illegal aliens) will also be revised.

Proposals to revise Aliens, Illegal aliens, and all of the related headings appear on Tentative List 1606a, which may be accessed at https://classificationweb.net/tentative-subjects/1606a.html.

The Library of Congress is accepting comments from the library community and the general public through July 15, 2016. Because of the high volume of comments that is expected, comments will be accepted only through an online survey, the link to which is available at the top of Tentative List 1606a.

Review of the comments by the Policy and Standards Division will begin after July 15, 2016. Final disposition of the proposals will be announced later this year.

Tell Congress that Cataloging and Politics Don’t Mix

From the ALA Washington Office:

“It’s not often that the House of Representatives’ ‘power of the purse’ is used to control — of all things — what subject headings the Library of Congress can use to classify materials, but that’s just what’s on the agenda when the House Appropriations Committee meets on May 17. As recently detailed in District Dispatch, it will be deciding whether to follow the lead of its Legislative Branch Subcommittee to, in effect, bar the Library from replacing ‘Aliens’ and ‘Illegal aliens’ with the more neutral and appropriate ‘Noncitizens’ and/or ‘Unauthorized immigration.'”

More here.

Yep.  The House Appropriations Committee appears prepared to force the Library of Congress to use in its subject headings, not the terms determined by expert professional judgment, but terms that fit the political and social agenda of the Republican majority.

In 2007, in a response to the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, I wrote in tribute to the staff of the Library of Congress “that these librarians–among the most knowledgeable and dedicated in our profession–have for most of the past six years been accountable to a Congress more deeply anti-intellectual perhaps, and more hostile to the public and nonprofit sectors and to open access to information, than any other in our history.”  What have the almost nine years since that summer shown us?  Apparently, among other things, that in politics nothing is so bad that it can’t get worse.

I don’t know what practical result it will have—we librarians and friends of libraries are hardly the natural constituency of those now driving the agenda in Congress—but the least we can do is speak up on behalf of intellectual integrity and the independence of our profession.  Let’s all take a few minutes to call or email.

The list of members of the Appropriations Committee

Tracking and contact links here.