May 22, 2022

Metadata: Library of Congress to Cancel the Subject Heading “Illegal Aliens”

UPDATE March 29, 2016 “Students Prompt Library of Congress Policy”

Thanks in large part to student activists at Dartmouth College, libraries all over the English-speaking world this summer will stop using the term “illegal alien” to describe noncitizens who lack legal residency status.

Dartmouth undergraduates had petitioned the Library of Congress, which sets the cataloging standards for countless other libraries, to abandon a phrase that they see as offensive and “dehumanizing.”

Read the Complete Article

From a Library of Congress Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate Document (March 25, 2016):

In response to constituent requests [*], the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress, which maintains Library of Congress Subject Headings, has investigated the possibility of cancelling or revising the heading Illegal aliens. PSD also explored the possibility of revising the broader term Aliens. It concluded that the meaning of Aliens is often misunderstood and should be revised to Noncitizens, and that the phrase illegal aliens has become pejorative. 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.

Other headings that include the word aliens or the phrase illegal aliens (e.g., Church work with aliens; Children of illegal aliens) will also be revised. All of the revisions will appear on a Tentative List and be approved no earlier than May 2016; the revision of existing bibliographic records will commence shortly thereafter.

The complete explanation document (4 pages; PDF) is available here. We’ve also embedded the full text below.

* One request came in the form of a resolution that was moved by the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table and then passed at the 2016 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston.

See Also: Recent Library of Congress Subject Heading Approved Lists and Tentative Lists

Hat Tip and Thanks: @MattRWeaver

Library of Congress to Cancel the Subject Heading “Illegal Aliens”

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.