Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Political Act of Cataloging

Cataloging, for any non-librarians reading this, is the practice by which a librarian decides what something is about. I'm oversimplifying, but for the purpose of this blog, let's go with that.

So a cataloger will look at the object-- usually a book, but it can also be a CD or DVD or magazine or any other object that a library owns and wants people to find-- and assign official subject heading(s) to it, taken from an approved list, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Examples of LCSH subject headings:
  • Farm life in mass media
  • Human behavior-- endocrine aspects
  • Male Friendship-- religious aspects

This week, as a result of a reference question about homeschooling curricula, I stumbled upon a record in our system-wide catalog of this book: The Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective.

It's basically a textbook for creationism.

Okay, fine. I know such books exist. I'm not naive enough to think that such a book wouldn't appeal to a certain demographic. And I'm a librarian-- I'm not going to argue that we remove all misguided voodoo tracts from our collection.

However, what bothered me about the creationism textbook was its catalog record, which had the following subject headings attached to it:
  • Science -- Study and teaching (Secondary)
  • Geophysics -- Study and teaching (Secondary)
Such a book is neither a science nor geophysics textbook. It's a religious text posing as one. So I thought it was really curious that whoever cataloged the book used those subject headings. To be fair, they also added:
  • Creationism -- Study and teaching.
  • Science -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Geophysics -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Bible and evolution.
  • Religion and science.
I don't object to any of those subject headings. But because of those first two listed, someone doing a search on high school science textbooks in our catalog would get this book in their results.

Even if the cataloger was just trying to be a thorough and conscientious librarian, it seems like an unwitting political act. Don't label it a science textbook unless it includes real science.


Sarah said...

And I'm a librarian-- I'm not going to argue that we remove all misguided voodoo tracts from our collection.

I went through a box of rotates the other day, and I may or may not have weeded "Leaving Homosexuality: a Practical Guide for Men and Women Looking for a Way Out" just for funsies.

That may or may not have been a thing that happened.

posterboy said...

Nice. Thanks. I recently wrote a similar essay about this process: