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The Library of Congress and Illegal Aliens

Last week the Library of Congress announced it would no longer use the the subject heading “illegal aliens” and instead would use a combination of “non-citizens” and “unauthorized immigrants.”

Although apparently not quite what they wanted, this change mostly appeased a group of protesters at Dartmouth who were offended by the phrase “illegal aliens.” If the LoC gets in the business of changing everything that offends a group of college students these days, they’re going to be very busy indeed.

Anyway, the group issued a statement. “We call on both politicians and media outlets to follow the precedent set by the Library of Congress. It is way past time that we all recognize that referring to immigrants as ‘illegal’ is an offensive, dehumanizing term and that there is no excuse to continue using it.”

According to a story in the Smithsonian magazine about this, the term “illegal” to describe people has already been falling out of favor with news outlets, so anybody who cares is already ahead of the LoC, which is pretty typical. And people who believe anyone but librarians will follow a precedent set by the LoC are deluded.

When I saw the story I responded the way most people probably responded. I couldn’t care less.

Library of Congress Subject Headings have been contested for decades by sensitive souls, and outside of librarians nobody uses them anyway. Illegal aliens, unauthorized immigrants, whatever is fine with me. Calling people “illegal” is possibly the least offensive thing LCSHs have called people, and as times change so do the subject headings, albeit slowly. If that’s the political hill you choose to die on, more power to you.

No doubt some librarians cheered, and this is possibly the only issue an ALA Council Resolution has ever influenced, so those folks are probably happy. Changing the heading is a situation in which nobody loses.

Which makes the far right-wing response to the change amusing, because boy is the far right fringe offended by the change. They’re deeply offended that anyone would change anything because some group that they’re not a part of is deeply offended by it. The irony cracks me up.

The Dartmouth Review proclaims that “the Library of Congress has decided that the term ‘illegal immigrant’ is, as Orwell might put it, doubleplusungood.” I don’t know how unhinged you have to be to compare LCSHs to the ultimate totalitarian state, but I’m guessing really unhinged. The world must be a really scary place to people who are frightened by library subject headings.

The far left and far right today seem to have the political fortitude of severe combined immunodeficiency victims. Fortunately, the bubble protecting them from library subject headings is pretty big, since they have virtually no effect on the real world.

I can sort of appreciate that being called an “illegal alien” might be offensive to illegal aliens unauthorized immigrants, since technically the aliens themselves aren’t illegal, only their actions. Calling them “unauthorized immigrants” doesn’t seem that much better.

Everybody knows what’s being talked about: people who enter the country illegally and stay here. Like it, hate it, don’t care at all about it, the issue is the same. If there are any politically correct nativists, they can now just start saying they want to round up unauthorized immigrants and send them home. Then everyone feels better, I guess.

But why someone at the Dartmouth Review would care at all is just manufactured outrage, and why he would compare the change to an Orwellian state is just manufactured lunacy.

It gets funnier, though. Alan Keyes wants Congress to get involved and reverse the decision. Why? Because the Subject Heading change “directly impugns its legislative authority.” Huh?

People who have probably never heard of an LCSH until this change thinks it actually means something to the world outside libraries. My right index finger would be making a twirling motion next to my temple if I didn’t need it for typing right now.

I tried to follow the logic, but I couldn’t find any. Congress makes the laws about immigration. I’m with him so far. But then there’s this:

The action taken by the Library of Congress effectively challenges and nullifies laws made pursuant to the Constitution of the United States.

My goodness, I never knew the Library of Congress Subject Headings were so powerful. Who knew that a Subject Heading in a library catalog record could “effectively” challenge and nullify laws? Wow. Why have a Congress at all if LCSH hold that much power!

Then we get a civics lesson.

But under the republican form of government the United States Constitution requires, the activities of government are to be bound by the words of laws constitutionally enacted by their elected legislative bodies – not by the edicts of government bureaucrats, submitting to the ignorant whims of students, no matter what the elitist student body to which they belong.

That’s fascinating. So we’re all now apparently governed by LCSHs. That is a frightening thought. It’s also a ridiculous thought. And, it’s frightening that someone could have such a ridiculous thought. Librarians sometimes talk about how libraries support lifelong learning. They’ve failed.

And if Congress doesn’t stop spending time voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and ignores this crucially unimportant issue?

The GOP’s thoughtless dereliction will confirm that the degenerate, corrupt elitist partisan sham they are slyly inflicting on our country is already replacing our government of laws (enacted by duly elected legislative bodies) with an anarchic dictatorship of unelected bureaucrats and elitist cliques, including student bodies, bereft of any proper authority except their own tendentious, ignorant whims.

I’m certainly no fan of tendentious, ignorant whims, except when I find them amusing.

So finally we’re left with an “anarchic dictatorship” of…librarians. Now THAT’s what I went to library school for.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. I wish subject headings had the power to keep families together. I am witnessing a very sad instance of this right now. One day will will overcome this tragic bureaucratic/political nightmare.

  2. Been there says:

    When I immigrated to New Zealand, it took me longer than it was supposed to to get my paperwork filed. I was officially labeled an “overstayer.”

    One unfortunate effect of the label “illegal alien” is that it is applied to children who are here due to no illegal action of their own. Also, “alien” groups you into a category with sharp-toothed monsters that erupt from people’s bellies. Now that we are back in the States, my husband is a “resident alien.”

  3. Matt Williams says:

    I can’t wait to become a benevolent overlord.

  4. Matt Williams says:

    I wonder if I could use local subject heading to control the city government.

  5. anonymous coward says:

    This is silliness. Why change it if it doesn’t matter. Illegal alien is not any more inherently pejorative than unauthorized immigrant. Really, I don’t care- but at some point do we NOT give the squeaky wheel the grease?

  6. Danielle says:

    In his book “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg provides an interesting example of how LC Subject Headings have influenced politics in the United States. He describes how a LC subject heading change made in the early 1970s (from “HQ 71-471, Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes” to a less pejorative category) was an important step in the effort to end discrimination in the Gay Liberation Movement. So maybe changing a subject heading from “Illegal aliens” is silly and the work of politically correct bullies. Or maybe words have the power to change our minds and the world around us, for the better or for the worse.

  7. I think it has to do with political correctness. But that’s my theory. They really are illegal aliens, and sugar coating it doesn’t change the fact they’re in here illegally. Heck, the U.S. is lenient compared to other countries regarding illegal aliens.

  8. Megs, it’s called empathy and compassion. You should give it a shot. People with special needs or developmental disabilities used to be called retards. Changing the word doesn’t do anything to change their situation but it’s about treating people with dignity and respect.

  9. Dear Me,
    Your empathy and compassion are misplaced. Illegal aliens are exactly what the name implies. They violated US laws to get here. Their illegal violations make them criminals. In most cases those individuals go on to illegally partake of government programs which becomes theft of services or they work under the table thus at bare minimum reducing wage levels for US citizens and taking work opportunities away from people legally here on America. Until the time comes that all Americans can once again share in the American Dream instead of living at home with Mom and Dad, we need to have emapthy and compassion for our own.

  10. Bookworm says:

    They can stay together, in their home country. It may seem heartless, and I did take a quiz that said I have pretty low empathy, but I feel like the right thing to do is not always the nice thing to do. Supporting illegal actions only encourages more illegal actions and this country is under no obligation to reform our immigration (already one of the most lax in the world) to make it easier for people to enter. Immigration is not a right, people don’t have the right to be here just because they want to be. Sorry, but no.

  11. Bookworm says:

    Meh to ’empathy and compassion’. Calling a spade a spade does not mean that you are lacking. But trying to euphemize illegal actions to change how people view the situation doesn’t change the fact that the actions are illegal and some people, for reasons that stump me, don’t think that people who are breaking the law should be punished for it. They think they should be rewarded for it…

  12. Bookworm says:

    Don’t forget the many cases of identity theft that they’re responsible for, destroying lives in the process.

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