A List of Resources to Practice Critical Cataloging

In my Information Organization course at Simmons, we had two weeks dedicated to classification theory, which included some materials about critical cataloging. Critical cataloging is, essentially, being aware of and challenging how societal structures of white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, homophobia, etc. all affect how we classify and describe materials when cataloging. I think Emily Drabinski explained critical classification theory best in “Teaching the Radical Catalog” when she argues that “classification schemes are socially produced and embedded structures; they are products of human labor that carry traces of all the intentional and unintentional racism, sexism, and classism of the workers who create them.” 

While I enjoyed and recommend the materials that were covered in this section of the class—including Drabinski’s “Teaching the Radical Catalog,” Hope Olson’s “Social Influences on Classification,” and the Change the Subject documentary—I was left still wanting to know more about resources about critical cataloging. And not just about how to be critical of our classification and cataloging systems, but how to actually enact change in our catalogs.

Previous HLS articles have tackled this issue before, including “Challenging LCSH—an introduction” that covers some main criticisms of Library of Congress Subject Headings, along with some excellent reading recommendations, as well as “The Racist Problem with Library Subject Classifications,” which focuses on racism in the LCSH and DDC. In this post, I wanted to focus on resources for MLIS students and librarians to use as alternatives to these classification/description systems when doing library cataloging or archival description. After all, as shown with the “Illegal aliens” subject heading conflict, it can take years for the Library of Congress to change a subject heading to more appropriate and less offensive terminology (and even then, there still may be issues). In addition to petitioning the LC, a faster way to enact change may be using local alternatives to subject headings. This list includes classification alternatives to LCSH, LCC, DCC, as well as alternative controlled vocabularies and thesauri, and other guides to critical cataloging and metadata.

Anti-Racism Digital Library, Glossary, and Thesaurus: An Omeka site developed by Anita S. Coleman in 2015, the Anti-Racism Digital Library provides a host of anti-racism resources, as well as a glossary and thesaurus of terms to aid in the description/cataloging of resources about anti-racism.

​​Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia’s Anti-Racist Description Resources: The Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia, a group of archivists and librarians in the Philadelphia area, developed guide for anti-oppressive archival description and metadata creation.

Brian Deer Classification System (BDC): The BDC was created in the 1970s by a Canadian librarian, ​​A. Brian Deer, to organize library materials for Indeginous collections, used mostly by First Nations libraries in Canada. Most prominently, the X̱wi7x̱wa Library at the University of British Columbia uses a British Columbia variant of the BDC.

Cataloging Lab: A website managed by Violet Fox, the Cataloging Lab serves as a space to draft proposals to add or replace LCSH. In addition to crowdsourcing new subject headings or identifying problem LCSH, the site also provides some lists of alternative vocabularies, statements on bias in library/archives description, and mission statements from metadata departments as resources. 

Homosaurus: The Homosaurus is a linked data vocabulary of terms to describe LGBTQ resources. It originally began in the late 1990s by the IHLIA LGBT Heritage in Amsterdam as a vocabulary to describe their resources, and was later expanded into a larger, hierarchical thesaurus in 2013, and adopted by the Digital Transgender archive in 2015. 

Protocols for Native American Archival Materials: Created by the First Archivists’ Circle, the Protocols have developed professional best practices for librarians and archivists for care and use, but also description of Native American materials. 

Women’s Thesaurus: From the Atria Institute on gender equality and women’s history, the Women’s Thesaurus is a controlled vocabulary of terms and subjects about women, gender, and feminism.

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