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.
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