We couldn’t be more pleased to pass along to an update to a previous post, in which we discussed the discomfort (or worse) that could be caused by the subject heading “illegal aliens.”

In that post, we argued that it matters — for inclusion, for access, for fairness, for equality of academic achievement — what we call things, and that referring to undocumented immigrants in subject headings as “illegal aliens” was, in short, deleterious to research (among other things). A group from Dartmouth College had raised the issue with the Library of Congress’s Policy and Standards Division, and the response was, in essence, sorry — that’s the only legally accurate way to refer to such persons.

But apparently that’s not actually the case. The Library of Congress has reversed itself, deciding — or discovering — that it’s really better not to use phrases such as “illegal aliens” that have, according to the LOC’s Executive Summary on the matter, “become pejorative.” The Summary continues: “The heading Illegal aliens will therefore be cancelled and replaced by two headings, Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration, which may be assigned together to describe resources about people who illegally reside in a country.”

Our congratulations to the Dartmouth folks for raising the issue. The episode is an object lesson on the ways in which libraries, and the language they use to describe things, do not sit apart from politics or, indeed, the kinds of important discourses that are addressed in and out of classes on campus. Rather, the means of accessing research materials are fundamentally entangled with those discussions and debates. Everyone’s research is better when those discussions are aligned with current and, one hopes, less offensive language and labels.

— Fred Folmer

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