Tackling Racism and Bias in the Library Catalog

12/16/2021 @ 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Tackling Racism and Bias in the Library Catalog

Close-up view of an old-fashioned library card catalog, three drawers opened.

The Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) “illegal aliens” is viewed as insulting and biased by many immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. Although LCSH recently updated the terminology to “noncitizens” and “illegal immigration,” many library professionals and social justice advocates consider the retention of the term “illegal” as hugely problematic. Brooklyn (NY) Public Library (BPL) and The New York Public Library (NYPL) have joined forces to replace and maintain less offensive terminology within both systems’ catalogs.

In partnership with BookOps (the NYPL and BPL shared technical services collaboration), over sixty-five variations of this terminology were identified and replaced in thousands of catalog records. The team launched a series of public programs and community engagement sessions to connect with users about the harm caused by problematic classification language, furthering their commitment to learning how libraries may continue addressing racist and biased terminology in classifying their respective collections.

In this webinar, staff from BPL, NYPL, and BookOps will share resources for libraries looking to make and maintain local revisions to subject headings. Learn technical procedures and guidance, tips for organizing internally (including getting buy-in from leadership), and how to engage patrons and other stakeholders around these changes, regardless of the size and shape of your library.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this webinar, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize the ways in which systemic racism and bias are hidden within library catalog records and metadata;
  • Understand the opportunities and limitations in addressing problematic language in the catalog;
  • Leverage procedures, processes, and other resources appropriate for all libraries; and
  • Design community engagement and public programming around the use of catalog language.

Who Should Attend

This free webinar is intended for public library directors and administrators, catalogers, collections managers, and front-line staff eager to find new areas for diversity, equity, and inclusion advocacy.

PLA members make it possible for us to provide continuing education opportunities like this webinar at no cost. We thank our members for their continuous dedication to the advancement of the public library field and our association.


Paloma Celis CarbajalPaloma Celis Carbajal is the curator for Latin American, Iberian, and U.S. Latino collections for The New York Public Library (NYPL) research libraries. She is responsible for the development of the collections in these areas in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Prior to joining NYPL, she served for over fourteen years as the bibliographer for Ibero-American Studies and Romance Languages collections at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Melissa GasparottoMelissa Gasparotto is associate director of research services and institutional partnerships for The New York Public Library (NYPL) research libraries. In this role she provides leadership in establishing a consistent user experience across all NYPL research libraries’ strategic services and collection initiatives, and works to develop and sustain institutional partnerships around collections services. She previously served for nine years as the subject specialist librarian for Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Rutgers University Libraries.

Amy MikelAmy Mikel is the director of customer experience at Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), responsible for conceptualizing and implementing exceptional customer experience strategies—especially those pertaining to reference, circulation, and collections—across BPL’s sixty branch locations.

Steven PisaniSteven Pisani is the assistant director of cataloging at BookOps, the shared technical services collaboration of The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, and is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the cataloging process for the circulating and research collections of both institutions. He previously was head of cataloging and interlibrary loan services at Westchester (NY) Library System.


This live webinar will be captioned.

If you have a physical or communication need that may affect your participation in this webinar, please contact us at plawebinars@ala.org or 800-545-2433 ext. 5PLA (5752) at least two weeks prior to the webinar. Without prior notification of need, we may not be able to provide appropriate accommodations for the live event.


Archived Recording

If you’re unable to attend this live webinar, an archived recording will be freely available typically within 1–3 business of the live event. Access to closed captions will be provided in the webinar recording.

Tech Requirements

This webinar will be presented using the Zoom platform. Please review Zoom technical requirements and support information, and test your connection.

Once you’ve joined the webinar, there are two ways to connect your audio: via computer (VoIP) or via telephone. No microphone is required. PLA works with its webinar platform provider to assure the highest quality audio is being delivered to attendees. However, variables over which PLA has no control—such as the speed of your Internet connection or traffic on your local network—can affect the end quality of the webinar audio delivered by your computer. Each webinar’s audio is also available by telephone via a toll number, so we recommend you have access to a long-distance enabled phone as a backup in case you experience audio issues with VoIP. If you do encounter any problems during the webinar, you will receive a link to its archived recording within a week of the live event and can review anything you missed.


Questions about this webinar? Please contact us at plawebinars@ala.org or 800-545-2433 ext. 5PLA (5752).

NOTE: Due to high demand, we are accepting up to 1,500 registrations for this event, but only the first 1,000 viewers will be able to attend live. The webinar room will open about 15 minutes before the start of the event, and we recommend you arrive early.