Radical Librarianism

What does “Radical Reference” mean to you?

Recently I had the opportunity to explore this question in a Radical Librarianism class at Simmons CollegRadicale taught by Laura Saunders. The discussion revolved around the challenges and obstacles we may face when attempting to serve within a “radical” framework. Myself, along with Brian Flaherty, reference librarian at New England Law, and Alana Kumbier– librarian at Hampshire College and author of Queering the Archivegathered to talk to a class of MLIS students on what it means to serve radical. The session was focused on human sexuality in academic or specialized libraries, but there was it turns out there much cross over into a public library setting when it come to serving in a “radical” manner. Flaherty, the Sex Law Librarian, sent me a list of topics and questions with issues such as controlled vocabulary, language, censorship, and internal biases. My library partner at the Center for Sex and Culture discussed these topics and more, and what it means for us to serve radical. Our answers to Brian’s questions can be seen here.

Connect with the panelists:

Laura Saunders

Brian Flaherty-Sex Law Librarian

Alana Kumbier

Connect with the Digital Transgender Archive


Internet Archive



Radical Cataloging

What a great find I came across today-a document by Sanford Berman, the father of Radical Cataloging,  mixed within a book donation at the CSC Library. The document is a petition dated from April 9, 1993 addressed to the Office of Subject Cataloging Policy at The Library of Congress, concerning the issues and difficulties of  users finding “sexual” subject matter in the library.  The direct purpose of the petition is a demand for “catalog reform.”

The petition also calls for an immediate creation of  “essential” sex related descriptors. It is interesting to see how in the twenty years since this documents creation how some of the suggested descriptors need changing and how new ones need to be created.

Berman wrote about biases in the LC subject heading in Prejudices and Antipathies, originally written in 1971 with a reprint in 1993.  In the piece Berman details alternative headings for those biased LC headings- including topics such as Race, Faith, Politics, Labor, Man, Woman and, of course, Sex.

For more information about Berman and  changes made, and not made, in the LC Subject Heads since the publishing of Prejudices and Antipathies, check out Steven A. Knowlton’s, Three Decades Since Prejudices and Antipathies: A Study of Changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. The essay tracks changes that have been made and hits on areas of bias that still exist within the LC system.