Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Chelsea Grant, Emily Lauerman, Carrie Lopez, Katherine Waltz
Link to article: http://libreas.eu/ausgabe12/003joh.htm
This article summarizes the effect the lack of clear cataloging for LGBT library materials has on their findability, which correlates to lack of awareness of their significance in society, and lack of normalization of the LGBT community in general society. Written by Anna Johansson in the journal Libreas: Library Ideas, which is published by the Institut für Bibliothekswissenschaft Berlin, the article references the Swedish classification system (SAB), offering insight on the difficulties that patrons may have when looking for LGBT literature in Swedish public libraries. The focus of this article is on the searchability of their system, where heteronormativity has been reinforced over time by being more specific when it comes to homosexuality in the subject headings, and where non-heteronormative material tends to be described poorly or not at all when it comes to subject access. The article also discusses the lack of heterosexual terms in the classification system due to implied obvious presence of it being self-evident. This leads the author to note that Swedish libraries are “upholders of the exclusive heterosexual norm in society.” The author also emphasizes the importance for the Swedish public library system to secure everyone’s right to information in serving a diverse public.
Core research questions
Johansson addresses the issue by attempting to answer these two research questions: “How does the heterosexual norm appear in classification systems and subject headings lists?” and “What are the consequences of that practice for the retrieval of gay literature?”
Methods used in research findings
The primary research method is studying Swedish classification system (SAB) and its headings to see how it catalogs gay literature (if at all) and how it compares to how heteronormative literature is catalogued. The author also supports her findings with observing other studies that relate to the topic of classification systems and the heterosexual norm. SAB is compared to the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Subject Headings, referencing Hope A. Olson’s 2002 study about the tendency for difficulty in classifying “others” outside of the male, western norm. This included biases against gender, sexuality, race, age, ability, ethnicity, language and religion.
The author also references Söderman’s 2006 study where librarians were interviewed about indexing who, when broached with the topic of adding “heterosexuality” to the subject heading list, gave the unanimous resulting answer that it would be unnecessary. Johansson also notes the 2004 AIS subject headings list, stating that terms like “lesbian love” and “homosexuality” being listed were crucial for searchability purposes, though they still othered them by not offering the “self-evident” alternative subject heading of “heterosexual”.
Findings and conclusions
There are subject headings for LGBT literature, but they are both very few and very plainly designated as being outside of the norm. To elaborate, they are treated as a extension of hegemonic culture rather than its own category. Librarians need to play their part in creating a “new normal” as it were, by including and cataloging literature pertaining to all colors, ethnicities and sexualities on the same level as the dominant hegemonic culture. The author concludes that it would also be useful to add “heterosexual” as a subject heading in order to remove the subject as the normative sexuality. The conclusion was made that LIS groups must proceed into further research on this topic in order to acknowledge the problem and bring LGBT groups into their research so that they can serve a more diverse public.
What can be gained by American Libraries?
Organizing information plays an important role in regard to how the community acknowledges diverse information groups. Librarians have a chance and ability to support diverse sexuality groups, by aptly classifying sexuality groups to be inclusive of all forms of human sexuality e.g. heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Taking a proactive role in classification can help remove the dominant status of “heterosexual” by listing it as a classification alongside other so-called “other” sexualities so that each sexuality is given equal standing as subject headings.
American libraries will be able to take this global perspective on what is currently happening in the Swedish public library system and address the issues that also exists in American systems, as the author references in Olson’s 2002 study of the Dewey Decimal System. By considering Johansson’s article, American libraries can answer her call to acknowledge and address the problem of othering apart from heterosexuality in classification systems, and allow the option for more ease in finding diverse sexualities in literature.
This idea of adding heterosexuality as a subject heading as a means to remove the position of “heterosexual” as the mainstream or “norm” can also be applied to other areas as well, including ethnicity, religion and gender. White, Christian and Male as pointed out in this article are the normative, so perhaps by adding or using subject heading for ‘white’ and ‘male’ when classifying titles would remove or lessen the othering that occurs when other genders, ethnicities, languages or religions are specifically listed. As pointed out by this article, classifying everything could move a step towards removing any one group or perspective as normative.
Many Americans believe that with the legalization of gay marriage, they have “caught up” with the rest of the world in the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. But many Americans turn a blind eye to the amount of prejudice that remains in the US, believing that legalization equals acceptance. Many also fail to realize that much of the world outside the United States is still struggling with acceptance either in obvious ways, or subtle ones like in the SAB system. American librarians can use this study of the SAB system to examine how their own classification systems categorize materials pertaining to various sexualities, using the SAB system as a jumping-off point from which to create subject headings that equalize all forms of sexuality. Libraries have a responsibility to make all information equally findable and accessible to all information seekers. Small steps like this will eventually go a long way in achieving that goal.
Johansson, A. (2008). The consequences of the heterosexual norm — How we organize and retrieve gay literature. LIBREAS. Library Ideas, 12. Retrieved from: https://libreas.eu/ausgabe12/003joh.htm