[Library Media] Race-based subject headings

Whiting, Joshua jwhiting at graniteschools.org
Wed Mar 8 09:52:31 MST 2017

My two cents, I agree with Heather. I think those kinds of subject headings could be useful for patrons finding books related to their own culture and experience, and also for finding books on another culture they are interested in learning about or have been assigned to study. If I remember correctly we had a question come up on this very listserv in which a librarian was looking for picture books with regular non-historical stories that just happened to feature African-American characters. I thought it was an extremely valid request in that it supported the whole “mirrors and windows” concept of readers seeing themselves in books and also seeing people different than themselves. Books about historical figures and the civil rights movement are important, but sometimes kids might benefit from seeing other kids who look like them just playing in the snow or talking to magical animals, too. So the subject headings could be useful for the librarian in trying to find these kinds of books for students, and in doing collection development. If you search for something and nothing or almost nothing comes up, it could indicate you have some collection development to do in that area to improve the diversity of your collection.

I see no problems with having these in your catalog, except the following cases:

1.       If it were the only subject heading for a title. In this case, I would say don’t remove it, but instead add some additional relevant subject headings for that book.

2.       If it is an old subject heading using outdated or possibly offensive language, you should probably modernize it or remove it.

3.       If there is a subject heading like “Women Artists” or “African American Inventors” I would want to make sure there was also one on the record that is just “Artists” or “Inventors” so that the book/person is not inadvertently filtered out from searches for all artists or inventors. I would still leave the more specific one so that patrons can search that way as well.

I think if someone in your community were using these headings as a way to find groups of books to sideline/challenge/weed, that’s not the fault of the subject headings and you probably have bigger issues to deal with in terms of educating your community about readers’ rights, open access to information, diversity, etc.

Josh Whiting
Library Media | Educational Technology Dept. | Granite School District
Phone: 385-646-7128 | Email: jwhiting at graniteschools.org<mailto:jwhiting at graniteschools.org> | Twitter: @jdwhiting<https://twitter.com/jdwhiting>
Web: http://graniteschools.org/edtech | http://granitemedia.org<http://granitemedia.org/>

From: library-media [mailto:library-media-bounces at lists.uen.org] On Behalf Of Heather Novotny
Sent: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 8:50 AM
To: Joseph Nielsen <Joseph.Nielsen at slcschools.org>; Cindy Mitchell <cindy.mitchell at jordandistrict.org>; library-media at lists.uen.org
Subject: Re: [Library Media] Race-based subject headings

Interesting point about the subject headings!

I just showed students how to click on the subject headings in a work's bibliographic record to find further materials. I love this as a backdoor to understanding indexing in a library catalog, and it works with any catalog. The 5th graders were totally geeked up, and a bunch of them went to the City & County library catalogs to try it immediately.

The strength of subject indexing is that, unlike keyword searching, it can return more relevant results. We all learn keyword searching just by doing it, but subject indexing has got to be taught.

Regarding removing descriptors that reference ethnicity, not sure I agree with that. What is the purpose of it? If Korean kids can find books about kids like them, that's a good thing, right?

Heather Novotny


The McGillis School

668 South 1300 East Salt Lake City, UT 84102

hnovotny at mcgillisschool.org<mailto:hnovotny at mcgillisschool.org>

From: Joseph Nielsen <Joseph.Nielsen at slcschools.org<mailto:Joseph.Nielsen at slcschools.org>>
To: Cindy Mitchell <cindy.mitchell at jordandistrict.org<mailto:cindy.mitchell at jordandistrict.org>>, "library-media at lists.uen.org<mailto:library-media at lists.uen.org>" <library-media at lists.uen.org<mailto:library-media at lists.uen.org>>
Sent: 3/8/2017 8:21 AM
Subject: Re: [Library Media] Race-based subject headings

I cringe at it too, but maybe not for the same reason. I’m seeing more reviews now which specifically point out the ethnicity of the characters – particularly if they are involved in some type of cross-ethnic relationship. I suspect it is because of the rising trend in trying to make our collections more ethnically diverse. But I think a good story should stand on the merits of the story – not the multi-ethnicity of the characters. Where such information is relevantly essential – or essentially relevant - to the story line, then by all means put it in the review and tell the reader. But otherwise let the story speak for itself. Readers will picture the characters like themselves, identify with them and develop their own internal movie. And that is part of what makes reading so special.

Joseph R. Nielsen

Library Technology Teacher

Hawthorne Elementary School

Salt Lake City School District

From: library-media [mailto:library-media-bounces at lists.uen.org] On Behalf Of Cindy Mitchell
Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2017 7:41 AM
To: library-media at lists.uen.org<mailto:library-media at lists.uen.org>
Subject: [Library Media] Race-based subject headings

I have been editing a lot of MARC records lately and whenever I see "African American" or "Korean American" and other such subject headings they make me cringe.  I am thinking of deleting them all together.  Especially because the information is usually available in the summary of the book and who sees the subject headings any more except for us?  I'd appreciate some thoughts on this.

FYI - I have already eliminated the "Girls", "Teenagers", and "Boys" subject headings!


Cindy Mitchell

South Jordan Middle School

10245 S 2700 W

South Jordan UT 84095


fax: 801-412-2930
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