Skip Navigation
Falvey Memorial Library
Advanced
You are exploring: Home > Blogs

Falvey Staff Members Work Together to ‘Change the Subject’ on the Term ‘Illegal Aliens’  

student at computer

By Deborah Bishov and Shawn Proctor  

Imagine searching the library catalog for books such as Migrant Deaths in the Arizona Desert and Whose Child am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody—and seeing the term “illegal aliens” appear on the results screen. Library users everywhere have encountered that term for many years, as it has long been the official Library of Congress subject heading assigned to books and other materials on the topic of immigrants who are undocumented. 

Users of Falvey Memorial Library’s catalog no longer encounter this pejorative subject heading in the public display, due to changes made by Falvey staff this past fall. Instead of the term “illegal aliens,” the Falvey catalog now displays “undocumented immigrants” as a subject heading term.

The changes affect variations on the subject heading as well; for example, “children of undocumented immigrants” now appears instead of “children of illegal aliens.” All instances when “alien” referred to a human being have been changed. 

Falvey staff members recognize that terms like “illegal alien” are not in alignment with Falvey’s or Villanova’s support of diversity as an integral component of our shared mission and values. This change to the library catalog is a reflection of Villanova as a welcoming community. We hope that it is also a step toward a respectful, globally-minded society. 

How do subject headings work? 

Falvey Memorial Library, like most academic and public libraries, uses Library of Congress subject headings to organize materials and make them discoverable to users. This cooperative system allows libraries to share resources. Subject headings are set by the Library of Congress, and, in general, changes to subject headings go through a process of approval there.   

Librarians and college students lobbied several years ago to have the “illegal aliens” subject heading replaced with other terms in all library catalogs, and the change was approved by the Library of Congress in 2016. This decision was widely supported by the library community. The 114th Congress intervened and overturned the decision before it could be implemented.

Why change the catalog, and why now?   

The timing was inspired in part by the 2019 documentary Change the Subject. This film shares the story of a group of student activists at Dartmouth College who began the movement for change. The Villanova community had the opportunity to view the film at a screening this fall, organized by Deborah Bishov, Social Sciences & Instructional Design Librarian, and Raúl Diego Rivera Hernández, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. The event featured a discussion with two of the filmmakers behind Change the Subject, Jill Baron and Óscar Rubén Cornejo Cásares.   

During conversations leading up to the screening, Falvey librarians—with the approval of Millicent Gaskell, University Librarian, and Jee Davis, Associate University Librarian for Collections & Stewardship—made the decision to change the subject in Falvey’s catalog.  

“Libraries use the subject headings established by the Library of Congress. The process for requesting a subject heading change was followed and the Library of Congress approved. In an unprecedented move, Congress overrode that decision. It’s been almost four years since the Library of Congress gave its approval. We believe now is the time for individual libraries to take the lead,” Davis says.

How did Falvey’s information technology infrastructure enable this change?    

Since the Library of Congress is still using “illegal aliens” in its shared catalogue, Falvey staff created code to display “undocumented immigrants” instead. Demian Katz, Director of Library Technology, worked with librarians at Falvey to alter the subject headings in VuFind, an open-source software for displaying the information in library catalogs. It was developed at Villanova University and is used by libraries around the world.  

One of the advantages of using open source software at Falvey is that staff can make customizations more easily than if they had to negotiate with a vendor to achieve the same results. Katz says, “In this instance, it only took a few hours of work spread across a few days to fully solve the technical problems involved.” While only the new subject headings appear in our public catalog, the old subject headings are still searchable.   

Libraries using VuFind can implement the same solution using the documentation on the Library’s technology blog. The Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law has already implemented this update into their catalog.   

“This change is about upholding our professional values to connect people to information and recognizing the power of the language we use as we do that,” Bishov says. “Making this change means that people who use our public catalog will not encounter this dehumanizing term in subject headings in the course of doing their research. And we’ll also be using terminology that matches language widely accepted by the people to whom it refers, by journalists, and by scholars.”


headshot of Deborah Bishov

Shawn Proctor

Deborah Bishov is Social Sciences & Instructional Design Librarian and Shawn Proctor is Communication & Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.



Like
1 People Like This Post

The Curious Cat: #FalveyIncludes: Baldwin and Bechdel

Celebrating Pride Month, the Curious Cat asked Falvey Memorial Library staff,

“What is your favorite LGBTQ+ novel and/or who is your favorite author?”

Jesse Flavin, Acquisitions and Electronic Resources Coordinator: “James Baldwin.”


Caroline Sipio, Access and Collections Coordinator: “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.”


Laura Hutelmyer, Acquisitions and Electronic Resources Coordinator: “Maurice Sendak.”


David Burke, Metadata Librarian: “Oscar Wilde.”


Chris Hallberg, Library Technology Developer: “Molly Ostertag, the artist and co-author (alongside Brennan Lee Mulligan) of the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist.”


Rob LeBlanc, First Year Experience Librarian: “It is a toss-up between Annie Proulx and David Sedaris.”



Kallie Stahl, MA ’17 CLAS, is communication and marketing specialist at Falvey Memorial Library. Share your favorite authors on Falvey Library’s Diversity and Inclusion Subject Guide! (This blog is was originally published June 20, 2018, in a slightly altered form.)

Like

#FalveyIncludes: Visit the Diversity & Inclusion Subject Guide During Pride Month

New York City – August 18, 2007: Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the June 1969 Stonewall Riots that commenced the Gay Liberation movement

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT+ Pride Month) is celebrated each June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots which occurred in 1969 in New York City. This five-day uprising by LGBT+ community members against police brutality is acknowledged as a turning point in the fight against anti-gay discrimination; it is also widely considered to be the birth of the gay rights movement in the United States. June 28, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The anniversary is marked each year by pride parades, picnics, workshops and historical tributes, as well as respect for those lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

At Falvey Memorial Library, our mission is to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment and to make the library a place where all feel welcome. Encouraging the exploration of different viewpoints, we’d like to take this time to remind the Villanova community to search the various LGBTQ+ resources gathered below and in our collections. 

Remembering the liberation moment, librarians shared their recommended reading and resources:

Sarah Wingo, Librarian for English Literature, Theatre, and Romance Languages and Literature

Darren Poley, Theology, Classics and Humanities Librarian

Susan Turkel, Sociology & Criminology, Global Interdisciplinary Studies, and Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian

  • Falvey books and DVDs on the topic of the Stonewall Uprising
  • Gender Studies Database (Articles from scholarly and popular sources on Stonewall and the gay rights movement)
  • GenderWatch (Articles from non-mainstream magazines and newspapers, dating back to the 1970s, as well as scholarly articles and books)

 

Be sure to check out Falvey’s Diversity and Inclusion Subject Guide for more LGBTQ+ resources.

Click here for information about the various LGBTQ+ groups at Villanova University as well as to read and contribute to the resources gathered on the Diversity and Inclusion Subject Guide.


(This blog is was originally published June 20, 2018, in a slightly altered form.)
Sources:
Boeckman, J., Cracuin, C. & Goldberg, A., (June 15, 2018). LGBT pride month a time to celebrate, bring awareness. The News Press. Retrieved from https://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/06/15/lgbt-pride-month-time-celebrate-bring-awareness/701381002/
https://www.glaad.org/publications/pridekit 
https://www.loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month/about/
Thomas, G.; (June, 2013) History of pride month. FEW’s News; Alexandria,  Vol. 45, Iss. 5, (Jun 2013). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1415379907/fulltext/54F38FC0B5FD4163PQ/1?accountid=14853
Photo by Lee Snider/Depositphotos.com

Joanne Quinn ’15 MA, ’84 CLAS is Director of Communication and Marketing at Falvey Memorial Library.


Like

 


Last Modified: June 12, 2019