Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I don't want to be part of the problem

The #critlib community had a chat yesterday about "dismantling the white, upper class, cisgender, & colonial LCSH." You can see the questions here. I was unable to participate in the chat, but I wanted to say something about one of the questions.

Is there a better alternative to the SACO process of LCSH review to ensure that change happens?


Okay, the SACO proposal process.

SACO is the Subject Access Cooperative Program, which is part of the Library of Congress-lead Program for Cooperative Cataloging. Members of the program may propose new subject headings or classification numbers for review and approval by Library of Congress staff. The process for reviewing subject headings and classification numbers is, roughly, a ten week process that crosses two departments in the Library of Congress.

In weeks 7-8 of the proposal process, there is an editorial meeting that determines whether proposals are approved, not approved, or changed according to existing subject cataloging policies. Summary of decision documents are posted online and are unbelievably interesting to read.

So that's the current process. Does that make sense? Have I explained myself clearly?

I think there are two possibilities here: create change from inside the system or develop vocabularies outside of the system entirely. Let's talk about the former and maybe come back to the later on a different day.

Idea #1:
Given that the SACO program is under the umbrella of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, I would love to see the Program for Cooperative Cataloging think about how the SACO proposal process could be reimagined. Library of Congress, of course, has a significant interest in how these proposals are vetted because LCSH is a thesaurus that they use to describe material in their collection. But I think that Program for Cooperative Cataloging members also have an interest in how these proposals are vetted because the expectation is that Program for Cooperative Cataloging members will use LCSH in the records they create. I think it would be valuable to have the input of the cataloging community--especially margainalized groups--when considering new and/or changed headings and classification numbers. There are already elected representative positions within the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. Perhaps those elected roles could extend to the SACO process.

Idea #2:
The ALCTS CaMMS Subject Analysis Committee brings together a variety of constituencies, including the Library of Congress, to discuss issues related to subject access. There are several outside organizations that have representation on this group, including the music and legal cataloging communities. I think that one way to change the system while working inside it would be to form a group that meets the criteria for eligibility to have a representative position on the Subject Analysis Committee. I would be especially like to see groups formed from inside ALA's Black Caucus and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table.

Catalogers, as a group of people, do the best they can to perform subject analysis on the material that comes across their desks. But, like everyone else, we do so with the privilege and biases that form the basis for who we are. We talk a lot about "cataloger's judgement" in the field of cataloging, but we talk less about "cataloger's bias." As someone who is white, middle-class, and cisgender, my records reflect a certain context. Cataloging, like the rest of librarianship, won't ever be neutral. But understand why the system is broken and how we can fix it might help us create systems that are better suited to the needs of our users. The #mashcat and #critlib communities are asking us to do better, and I think we can.

Stay positive,

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