WWSBD – What Would Sandy Berman Do?


Librarians carry a social responsibility. In a profession dedicated to providing access to knowledge, storage of materials and the dissemination of information, there must be an outspoken member advocating for change when the accepted system does more harm than good. For the past 35 years, Sanford “Sandy” Berman has been a significant and progressive figure fighting for library users’ right to information. His life and work is an example that a cataloger can do much more than create a bibliographic record. By adhering to his principles, he repeatedly challenged the standards and systems of library science to uncovered deep-rooted problems, inconsistencies, prejudices, and aggressively sought to correct them.

Berman’s 1971 seminal book, Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Head Concerning People challenged the blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and Euro-Christian bias found in the LCSH. He understood that “the work of libraries is directly involved with every aspect of peoples’ lives and cannot be isolated with the library wall” (Dodge and Desirey, 1995, p.45). As a result, he worked tirelessly to advocate the importance of neutral representation of social, political and economic issues within collections and catalogs. As I have argued for in the past on the Desk Set blog, a library’s collection cannot be accessed without a usable catalog. Berman fought to create a catalog that represented its users in their language and in doing so unlocking the doors to the stacks, demystifying collection and putting texts back in the hands of the people.

We celebrate Pride in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots, and in honor of this occasion the Que(e)ry team would like to point out just a few of the queer subject headings Sandy has introduced into the LSCH. Because without his voice, ours might have been lost and our history left out of reach on the shelves!

Anal fisting [proposed] [sh2010010089] — Christian gays [sh 96011052] — Dildos [sh2007007162] — Gay artists [sh 92001225] — Gay authors [sh2003005955] — Gay clergy [sh 89001752] — Gay couples [sh 85061777] — Gay men [sh 85061798] — Gay men in literature [sh 95004286] — Gay rights [sh 94009215] — Gay teachers [sh 93005151] — Gay teenagers [sh 87006903] — Gays [sh 85061795] — Heterosexuality [sh 93008585] — Homophobia [sh 88006552] — Intersex children [sh2007005476] — Intersex people [sh2007003860] — Intersexuality [sh 85060401] — Jewish gays [sh 89003905] — Lesbian mothers [sh 85076155] — Men’s underwear [sh2007000724] — Queer theory [sh2006001835] — Second-wave feminism [sh2008001560] — Sex toys [sh2006001007] — Sexual fantasies [sh 85120734] — Sexual freedom [sh2006004255] — Strap-on-sex [sh2007007163] — Third-wave feminism [sh2008001561] — Transgender people [sh2007003708] — Transgenderism [sh2007003716] — Two-spirit people [sh 95004103] — Zines [sh2005003810]

Que(e)ry is this Friday! Remember, you don’t have to be a queer librarian…you just have to dance with one!!!

and tell us some of your favorite queer subjects headings this week!


Berman, S. (1971). In Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.

Dodge, C., DeSirey, J., & Berman, S. (1995). Everything you always wanted to know about Sandy Berman but were afraid to ask. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. John R. Lightbody
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 08:24:16

    Lovely and timely… Thank you. I’ll be dancing with you in spirit!

  2. Emily
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 11:43:02

    I think the idea of a ‘neutral’ catalog is something of a fantasy–I don’t know anybody who uses the same word to describe their gender today as they did ten years ago, and a lot of the language we use now didn’t even exist then, and will likely be out of use before it could ever enter LCSH. The reparative work done by Sandy (and a lot of other librarians too) in terms of cataloging can only ever respond in a partial and contingent way to the shifts in queer names and times. Sandy’s work is a vital legacy, and vital in the present, of course. I do wonder, though, if we might do more productive political work by stepping to the side a little to acknowledge that language is always historically and socially contingent and can never be “correct.” (e.g., Lesbian mothers contains and represents a lot of us, but not all ‘lesbian mothers’ I know.) Could we think of cataloging in a way that would acknowledge and work with this material constraint, rather than acting as if we could ‘beat it’ somehow?

    I know I just got all crazy humorless-lesbian on your blog post. This is just a lonely drum I bang a lot in my brain. We can also just take this up over drinks on Friday, which I’m very much looking forward to.

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