Report: “Words Matter’: Why the UC Berkeley Library is Embracing Another Term for “Illegal Aliens”
Gisèle Tanasse’s class visits come with an apology.
When she’s introducing students to the UC Berkeley Library, and helping them sift through its collections using the online catalog, she warns them about what they might find.“You’re going to see some things that are really othering and problematic,” says Tanasse, Berkeley’s film and media services librarian, recalling her message to students during a pre-pandemic interview at Moffitt Library’s Media Resources Center. “And I’m sorry.”The “things” Tanasse is referring to aren’t controversial films or antiquated tomes in the Library’s collections. They’re subject headings, woven into the Library’s catalog itself.
Subject headings usually exist outside of the realm of dinner-table banter, often confined to discussions among library folk. But in recent years, the heading “Illegal aliens” and its ilk shot to national attention.
After a hard-fought (and ultimately unsuccessful) war of the words started by students at Dartmouth College, which would have changed subject headings used by libraries across the country, the UC Berkeley Library saw an opportunity to act. Along with other institutions nationwide, the Library has adopted alternatives to the controversial heading — a step toward greater inclusion.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.