Backstage Library Works

Webinar Debrief: Consistency Among the Changes

The webinar “Consistency Among the Changes” is now available to watch, re-watch, and share.

Any librarian will tell you that subject headings are more than just descriptive terms in library metadata. Patrons rely on precise access points that will efficiently search for and recover the materials they’re looking for, and in the last few years, we have seen a greater push to make some subject headings – particularly, problematic or non-inclusive subject terms – more representative of our communities and, very simply, more accurate.

One such term is the use of “Illegal Aliens,” and the drawn-out petition to have this changed to “Undocumented Immigrants.” While the movement is gaining momentum, it is a fact that the review process can take months, typically years, and these changes are vulnerable to the possibility of being reverted – as we saw in 2016 when a successful revision was forced to be reversed. Libraries have, in response, started to take a different approach in resolving this problem internally, bypassing the lengthy bureaucratic cycle and providing a personal, community-oriented touch to their metadata.

Casey Cheney, Backstage’s Vice President of Automated Services, mentions in her webinar that Backstage worked with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum to make systemic changes to their local authority file. The library wanted to make changes to their “Indigenous Peoples” terms, and when the process was complete, they had identified, and Backstage successfully converted, 3,737 subject terms and subdivisions.

Today, Backstage has identified over 3,600 terms that would be relevant to a wide audience of institutions, and this authority file can be used to assist your library in decolonizing your subject authority file. Or, alternatively, Backstage can create local authority records from your library’s recommendations.

Casey has created a reference guide, below, that may offer some guidance as to how your library can approach making these changes. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out: contact details below.

Problematic Terms – Making the change (FAQ)

1. Why should I consider making changes to problematic terms?

One of the main reasons various institutions are looking to change problematic terms is due to concerns around their insensitivity and the feeling of terms not being inclusive enough. There could be other reasons for making the terms changes but these appear to be the most common reasons. Institutions are looking to make a patron’s experience within the catalog one that will not cause undue discomfort.

2. Which terms should I consider changing?

Current terms that are being changed throughout the library community are those related to “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens” due to the restrictions in place regarding changing these terms in the LC Authority File. However, the idea of changing terms related to Indigenous Peoples is gaining steam as well. As time goes on, there will likely be more and more term-sets that institutions continue to change to better serve their patrons through inclusivity and more comprehensive search options.

3. What are the mechanics that some institutions are using to enact the change?

  • Batch editing tools: Some institutions utilize tools like MarcEdit or perhaps OpenRefine to either replace the problematic terms.
  • Custom processing rules: Within Backstage’s Authority Control process is the ability to create custom rules. For smaller term-sets it might make sense to use a custom rule to enact the change of terminology. This process could look at all potential 6XX fields instead of just LC coded terms.
  • Locally created authority records: Some institutions are creating their own local authority records with the LC term in a 4XX in order to change the heading to their preferred term. These authorities are then loaded into your own system and are also provided to the Vendor for loading into their system.
  • Locally created authority records: Some institutions are creating their own local authority records with the LC term in a 4XX in order to change the heading to their preferred term. These authorities are then loaded into your own system and are also provided to the Vendor for loading into their system.

4. What options do I have of changing the terms once I decide how to change them?

  • Add a new 6XX field: Batch editing tools and custom processing rules can easily help you add a NEW 6XX field with your preferred term. This will allow the LC coded heading to remain in the record for URI Enrichment/Linked Data purposes while still allowing you to have your preferred term visible and searchable. Alternatively, you could MOVE your LC coded heading to another field to keep it from public display. However, adding additional fields may end up causing an issue with record size if they’re being added to an already large record and your system has size limitations.
  • Replace existing 6XX field: Another option is to completely replace the existing insensitive term with that of your preferred term. Completely replacing the term will 1) easily remove the display of insensitive terms and 2) remove any size restrictions you may have on MARC records within your system. However, with the removal of the LC Heading, there is no longer a URI to insert into the field for Linked Data purposes.

5. If I have future authority control processing, will my new preferred terms be overwritten?

No! If a new term is ADDED to your record, you could code the field (or the indicators) in such a way to omit them for Authority Control processing. If you are REPLACING the original term with the use of a Local Authority Record, your authority control vendor will be sure to keep this “local” file as the first source for searching which will bypass any searching against LC. Additionally, these will also receive an indicator change to denote them as “local.”

6. If an LC Authority record is used to build the local authority record, will I receive those updates?

This is the desire for 2021! Backstage is currently working on a process to be able to pull in the updates that LC issues while retaining your preferred terms within your Local authority. While this is not yet in place as of May 11th, 2021, it is in the queue of tasks to complete.

7. How can Backstage help me start thinking about which terms to change within a specific problematic group?

Backstage has two spreadsheets to help you begin thinking about which “Illegal aliens” or “Indian” terms to change. This spreadsheet contains the LCCN + the LC Heading. You may add or remove terms as you see fit; just provide us with the same information plus your preferred terms. If you have other term-sets you’d like to change, let us know and we’ll see what we can do about coming up with a spreadsheet of recommendations. Or, if you have your own, please feel free to provide it!

8. Is there a completed list of recommended terms plus their changes?

As of May 11th, 2021, there is not. Backstage’s Authorities Librarian is currently working on a spreadsheet for Indigenous Peoples related terms as well as the Illegal Aliens terms; although, for the present, we’d recommend following the 2016 SAC working group for using “Noncitizens” for “Aliens” and “Undocumented immigrants” for “Illegal aliens.”

9. Will Backstage develop a database that can be freely shared and added to?

That is the overall goal! Once our Authorities Librarian completes the spreadsheet of term changes, we would like to convert these to “Local” authority records that can be shared and can be added/edited as more institutions submit recommendations.

10. When determining preferred terms for Indigenous Peoples, is anyone working directly with the tribes/nations to determine what the preferred term should be?

It is possible that some institutions are, but we are not acutely aware of those. Backstage is anticipating a multi-part project to FIRST get a basic “pattern” recommendation for potential changes to these headings and THEN start the work of contacting tribes/nations for their preferred term since that is anticipated to be a much larger part of the project. Backstage would certainly be open to other institutions helping in the task of contacting local tribes/nations to keep the work progressing!

11. What about other terms, for example, like those for the LGBTQIA+ community? Are there crosswalks available from LCSH to the Homosaurus vocabulary in order to be more inclusive?

Right now, there aren’t any straight-forward crosswalks from some of the other insensitive terms found in LCSH to other vocabularies. We’re hopeful that as these other vocabularies become more widely used that these crosswalks will be developed.

Contact Us

To learn more about our pricing and how Backstage can help you with your records, you can call us at 1.800.288.1265, visit us online at, or send an email to

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