Engaging an Author in a Critical Reading of Subject Headings
Most practitioners of critical librarianship agree that subject description is both valuable and political. Subject headings can either reinforce or subvert hierarchies of social domination. Outside the library profession, however, even among stakeholders such as authors, there is little awareness that librarians think or care about the politics of subject description. Talking about subject description with the authors whose works we hold and represent can strengthen our relationships, demystify our work, and hold us accountable for our practices. This paper discusses an interview I conducted with author Eli Clare about the Library of Congress Subject Headings assigned to his book, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Clare describes feeling dismayed by and detached from the subject headings assigned to his book. He offers a sophisticated analysis of individual headings. He also reflects on the subject description project itself, using theories from genderqueer and transgender activism to discuss the limitations of categorization.
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