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Black square with white text that reads "The Reparative Cataloging Project." Beneath that is a white Middlebury shield.

The Middlebury Libraries’ Reparative Cataloging Project seeks to address catalog records that are historically inaccurate, offensive, discriminatory, or harmful. Earlier this year, we replaced the “illegal aliens” subject heading with “undocumented immigrants.” Now, we’re planning more changes!

What is a subject heading, anyway?

Middlebury, like all academic libraries in the United States, looks to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to provide standardized subject headings (or a “controlled vocabulary” in library-speak) for use in describing books and other works in our collections. In other words, a subject heading will tell you what - or who - a work is about.

Library of Congress subject headings allow researchers to conduct searches at different libraries using similar terms. These terms change over time (“Water-closets” became “Toilets” in the 1970s and “Moving-pictures” became “Motion pictures” in 1987) but materials on those topics remain united under a single heading, making them easier to find.

In June, 2021, we joined our colleagues at institutions like Dartmouth, Harvard, and Vassar in replacing the term “illegal aliens” with “undocumented immigrants” in out cataloging.

What updates are we planning?

During the 2021-2022 academic year, the updates you can expect to see include changing “Blacks” to “Black people,” “Slaves” to “Enslaved persons,” “Gays” to “Gay people,” “Sexual minorities” to “LGBTQ people,” and more!

Anti-racism and the Reparative Cataloging Project

This spring, Middlebury joined the growing list of academic libraries that have changed the heading from “illegal aliens” to “undocumented immigrants,” affirming that only actions, not people, can be illegal and that the term “alien” is othering and outdated. 

Updating subject headings like these uphold the Anti-Racist Statement published by Middlebury Libraries in July 2020 and which states:

We acknowledge that libraries and archives are not neutral, and have served…as instruments of exclusion, colonialism, and assimilation, and we will identify ways both large and small to undo this harm.

This work is also part of the Middlebury Libraries’ Reparative Cataloging Project, which seeks to address catalog records that are historically inaccurate, offensive, discriminatory, or harmful. 

How can you help?

If you encounter a problematic subject heading in the Middlebury Libraries’ catalog, please send us a message using the Library Feedback Form for consideration and review.