The Library of Congress this week confirmed that it will replace the cataloging subject headings “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens” with the more accurate—and non-offensive—terms “Noncitizens” and “Illegal immigration.”
The decision was announced on November 12 at the regularly scheduled meeting of the LC's Policy and Standards Division, which maintains Library of Congress Subject Headings, and comes after a long-running advocacy campaign by a number of groups, including the library community—and a conservative political backlash against the effort.
According to the ALA, the revisions are scheduled to appear soon on Special List 21-11B, and librarians say that subject headings on existing LC bibliographic records will then be updated “as expeditiously as possible.”
After being petitioned by a range of advocacy groups, the Library of Congress first agreed to replace the subject headings back in 2016. But in an unprecedented action, a group of conservative members of Congress objected to the change, and went so far as to add a provision to an appropriations bill that would require the library to retain the terminology—the first time in LC's history, LC officials told reporters, that lawmakers had intervened in a routine cataloguing matter.
In a statement, the American Library Association (ALA), which has been advocating for the change for years, praised the Library of Congress’s long awaited action.
“We are pleased that the Library of Congress is replacing these subject headings, which are both outdated and dehumanizing,” said ALA president Patty Wong. “This update better reflects common terminology and respects library users and library workers from all backgrounds. It also reflects the core value of social justice for ALA members, who have been at the vanguard of this change for years.”
Library of Congress Subject Headings are widely used in library catalogs, and are routinely updated by the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress.
This is a breaking story and at press time LC officials have yet to issue a formal comment. We will continue to update this story.