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Antiracist Praxis

Critical Cataloging and Classification by Symphony Bruce

Critical Cataloging and Race

Critical Cataloging, a subset of Critical Librarianship, focuses on mitigating the ways in which classification and the organization of knowledge codify systems and hierarchies of oppression. Cataloging refers to the creation of metadata and description, following established guidelines, that help make items searchable and discoverable. In the U.S., the most common classification systems are the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification System (LOC), which use subject headings to categorize and build connections between content. It is this mixture of metadata and classification that makes items discoverable in library catalogs and databases. 

Critical Cataloging recognizes the ways in which these classification systems (and other facets of metadata creation) standardize and codify long-held prejudices through language and erasure. An example of this codification can be seen in the recent cancelation of the Illegal Alien subject heading in the LOC classification system - a subject heading rife with historically racist and dehumanizing connotations. Through the activism of students, educators, and librarians, this subject heading made national headlines and led to two new headings: Noncitizens and Unauthorized immigration. This change and many others like it speak to the power of examining and criticizing our classification and cataloging practices in making our systems of knowledge organization less racist. It should be noted that this change, while approved, has not actually been completed and speaks widely to the ways in which bureaucracy and process undermine progress. 


Suggested Reading

Adler, Melissa. "Classification along the color line: Excavating racism in the stacks." Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2017.

Adler, Melissa and Harper, Lindsey M. "Race and Ethnicity in Classification Systems: Teaching Knowledge Organization from a Social Justice Perspective." Library Trends vol. 67, no.1, 2018, pp. 52-73.

Anderson, Jane and Kimberly Christensen. "Decolonizing attribution: Traditions of exclusion. Journal of Radical Librarianship, vol. 5, 2019, pp. 113-152. 

Change the Subject. Directed by Sawyer Broadley and Jill Baron, Dartmouth College, 2019.

Drabinski, Emily. "Teaching the radical catalog." Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front, edited by K. R. Roberto, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015, pp. 198-205.

Duarte, Marisa Elena and Miranda Belarde-Lewis. "Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies." Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 5-6, Apr. 2015, pp. 677–702.

Dudley, Michael Q. "A Library Matter of Genocide: The Library of Congress and the Historiography of the Native American Holocaust." International Indigenous Policy Journal, vol, 8, no. 2, 2017.

Fox, Melodie J. "'Priorities of arrangement’ or a ‘hierarchy of oppressions?’: Perspectives on intersectionality in knowledge organization." Knowledge Organization, vol. 43, no. 5, 2016, pp. 373-383. 

Furner, Jonathan. “Dewey Deracialized: A Critical Race-Theoretic Perspective.Knowledge Organization, vol. 34, no. 3, 2007, pp. 144–68. 

Green, Rebecca. “Indigenous Peoples in the US, Sovereign Nations, and the DDC.” Knowledge Organization, vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, pp. 211–221. 

Higgins, Molly. “Totally Invisible: Asian American Representation in the Dewey Decimal Classification, 1876–1996.” Knowledge Organization, vol.43, no. 8, 2016, pp. 609–621. 

Howard, Sarah A.and Knowlton, Steven A. "Browsing through Bias: The Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings for African American Studies and LGBTQIA Studies." Library Trends, vol. 67, no. 1, 2018, pp. 74-88.

Idrees, Haroon. “Organization of Islamic Knowledge in Libraries: The Role of Classification Systems.” Library Philosophy and Practice, vol. 63, no. 3, May 2013, pp. 98-117.

Knowlton, Steven A. “Three Decades since Prejudices and Antipathies: A Study of Changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 2, Aug. 2005, pp. 123–145. 

Littletree, Sandra and Cheryl Metoyer. “Knowledge Organization from an Indigenous Perspective: The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology Project.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, vol.53, no. 5–6, Apr. 2015, 640–57. 

McKennon, Ed. “Importing Hegemony: Library Information Systems and US Hegemony in Canada and Latin America.” Radical History Review, vol. 95, no. 95, 2006, pp. 45–69. 

Olson, Hope A. “Mapping beyond Dewey’s Boundaries: Constructing Classificatory Space for Marginalized Knowledge Domains.” Library Trends, vol. 47, no. 2, Sept. 1998, pp. 233–54.

Olson, Hope A. “Thinking Professionals: Teaching Critical Cataloguing.” Technical Services Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 1-2, Sept. 1997, pp. 51–66.

Olson, Hope A. “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 26, no. 3, Apr. 2001, pp. 639–68.