One of the paradoxes at the heart of library cataloging and classification is the demand to fix in place elements of a record even when those elements are always in flux. We have to name things in order to locate them, which means we can’t escape encounters with the politics of naming. In this talk, Amber Billey (Columbia University) and Emily Drabinski (Long Island University, Brooklyn) will discuss the particular example of RDA rule 9.7, a rule that, if recorded, required gender to be fixed in RDA-compliant name authority records until a group of catalogers fought to make it optional.
Prior to January 2016, rule 9.7 directed catalogers to record gender when identifying persons. Although RDA gave catalogers the flexibility to record more than two gender labels, RDA rule 9.7 limited Name Authority Cooperative Program (NACO) catalogers to a binary controlled vocabulary: male, female, or not known. Queer theory tells us that gender simply doesn’t work this way. Gender is socially constructed and contingent. Requiring a binary label meant requiring that catalogers ignore the wishes of many trans- and gender-variant authors, as well as authors who simply did not wish to disclose their gender. With this problem in mind, a group of catalogers lobbied the international RDA Steering Committee for a rule change and ultimately succeeded.
The product of both theorizing and activism, the RDA rule change also represents a powerful moment of praxis, reminding librarians that thinking and working together can change the profession for good.