Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Change the Subject: Dartmouth Students Take on the Library of Congress

What better way to spend Friday the 13th than at school watching a documentary about the weight of -- and potential harm associated with -- naming as well as the intersections of subject headings and activism? I did just that, settling in for a viewing and panel discussion of "Change the Subject," which follows "a group of students at Dartmouth College, whose singular effort at confronting anti-immigrant sentiment in their library catalog took them all the way from Baker-Berry Library to the halls of Congress. 'Change the Subject' shows how an instance of campus activism entered the national spotlight, and how a cataloging term became a flashpoint in the immigration debate on Capitol Hill." You can check out the trailer for yourself here

The documentary was fabulous, but the high point was hearing from all of the panelists. Óscar Rubén Cornejo Cásares joined us via Skype. He is a former undocumented student activist who was involved with CoFIRED (Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth), and one of the film producers. He is currently working on his PhD at Northwestern. Óscar spoke about finding his voice, and gaining a better understanding of complex library systems, as well as his general experience with CoFIRED and studying at Dartmouth. 

Filmmakers Sawyer Broadler and Jill Baron were also on the panel. Jill and Sawyer had originally planned on creating a 15 minute video to document the process, but opted for an hour long documentary when they amassed 30+ hours of footage. It was Dartmouth student Melissa Padilla's interaction with Jill that set off the fight for removal of the subject heading "illegal alien" from Library of Congress records. Jill had been conducting a reference interview with Melissa when searches for "undocumented immigrants" led to the subject heading in question. Jill spoke extensively about confronting her own whiteness/privilege and her journey challenging the Library of Congress instead of blindly accepting their naming conventions as gospel. 

Community activists rounded out the panel. Irma Lemuz is a migration, gender and environmental justice organizer with Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network. She is originally from Honduras, and spoke about her difficult journey to the United States, and emphasized that the world has no true borders. Irma brought her son to the event. He sat near the front and was clearly so proud of his mom. He recorded every answer she gave on the panel. I only cried a little bit. 

Catalina Santiago is a immigration justice organizer with Movimiento Cosecha Massachusetts, who arrived to the panel from a Quinceañera outside the Massachusetts State House. The Rainbow Times writes that "after fifteen years of empty promises saying action will be taken on drivers' licenses for migrants, the community and allies will gather to demand change through a mock celebration." Catalina spoke about the reclamation of slurs and how labels have specifically affected her life. 

At the conclusion of the event, Andrew Clark -- who is a Discovery and Metadata Librarian at Beatley -- shared with those in attendance that the Fenway Library Organization (FLO) is working to strike "illegal aliens" from member library catalogs. I am elated that Simmons is willing to put in the work to ensure that harmful naming practices do not have a home on our campus.