Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lesbrarians, Censorship, and Equality

An article at Bitch Magazine that I thought was wonderful: Revenge of the Feminerd: Libraries, Lesbrarians, Censorship, and Equality. A good general post about some of the issues surrounding the profession and gays; I especially liked the bit about cataloguing:

Even today, “male nurses” and “women engineers” exist as subject headings. This is obviously problematic and an example of how classification systems sometimes lag way behind the times. The words we use are powerful, and the words that are used to define and locate people are often problematic and offensive.

Sandy Berman is a radical cataloger who was responsible for introducing subject headings like: two-spirit people (to replace berdache), intersexuality (to replace hermaphrodite), and transgender people. He also advocated for subject headings were less archaic: toilet (instead of water closet) and light bulb (electric light, incandescent). Until last year if you were looking for a book on how to make an Indian curry, the correct subject heading was Cookery--Indic.

Subject headings that Berman suggested that haven’t been adopted include: anal fisting, drag queens, feminist zines, erotic graphic novels, butch femme (lesbianism) and genderqueers.

Gender and sexuality often get mixed up by catalogers. I reckon this is partly because for many people these concepts are not different and partly because good subject headings don’t exist. The subject heading of "lesbian--identity" isn’t really appropriate for the new book Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, but currently there isn’t a better option. Catalogers need to create one.

This is an especially conspicuous blind spot, because I have searched the Library of Congress Subject Heading books (five very thick, heavy volumes) and there is some strangely specific stuff in there. I wish I had written some of them down. It was not unusual for us to find something odd and immediately share it with others in our immediate vicinity. Huge oversight, glaring omission, things we need to change, pronto.


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