The Language of Cataloguing: Deconstructing and Decolonizing Systems of Organization in Libraries

Crystal Vaughan


This paper analyzes the language of cataloguing because the information that librarians and other information professionals provide to others has a huge impact both on how others are viewed and how others view themselves. This ultimately comes down to the way in which words are given meaning and interpreted according to the socio-political climate of the time. As society, politics, and economies change, so too does the language of representation. Therefore, the Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) as a system of categorization is only as effective as the language that is used to define what is and what is not. Moreover, those who control the language of categorization control access to the information categorized within that system. Consequently, librarians must always be critical of the language they are using in their information organization systems. Language is continuously evolving according to societal discourse and politics; therefore, if libraries are to maintain their social responsibility to provide information to all, including socially disadvantaged and marginalized peoples, then librarians must continuously advocate for changes to subject headings. Librarians must also recognize and reflect on their own internal biases when cataloguing and make it their job to deconstruct language and decolonize the systems that perpetuate the continued marginalization of others. To remain neutral about these systems is the very opposite of what it means to be a librarian in the twenty-first century.


cataloguing, representation, language, social justice, librarianship

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