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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Cataloging Services

Acquisitions & Cataloging Services

Alternatives to the LCSH “Aliens” and “Illegal Aliens” Subject Terminology


There have been a lot of discussions and actual conversion works for the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) Aliens and Illegal Aliens since 2016 as those terms impede efforts towards diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The Library of Congress (LC) tried to revise the subject heading “Illegal aliens” in 2016 to “Noncitizens” and “Undocumented immigrants” as alternative subjects to “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens” as recommended by the ALA/ALCTS Subject Analysis Committee (SAC) Working Group. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives objected to the change and ordered LC to continue using the terms. 

However, many libraries decided to change or find ways not to use those terms in catalog records or display those terms in their public display. According to our research many libraries have already completed the conversion of those terms to more appropriate terms. 

This report includes the motivation of the work and recommendations of the conversion work.


The University of Illinois has many students, staff, and faculty from many different countries and provides research support for those visiting scholars from foreign countries. The University’s strategic plan includes that “We will be leaders in advancing diversity and equity that will contribute to creating an institution committed to excellence in discovery, teaching, and research, and a climate where all can achieve their highest aspirations in a safe and welcoming environment.” The Library’s strategic plan also stresses that we have to provide and support the DEIA efforts in collection buildings and access services. This LCSH terms conversion project will be the first step of those efforts to support campus users and Library’s commitment toward the DEIA work.


LCSH terms affected

The following are identified as the first conversion target with the recommended terms as LC tried to change in 2016.

LCSH Alternative Term(s)
Aliens Noncitizens 
Alien criminals Noncitizen criminals
 Aliens in literature Noncitizens in literature
Illegal aliens Undocumented immigrants 
Alien criminals Noncitizen criminals 
Alien detention centers Immigrant detention centers 
Alien labor Foreign workers
Alien property* Foreign property
Children of illegal aliens Children of undocumented immigrants
Illegal aliens children Undocumented immigrant children
Children of alien laborers Children of foreign workers
Deportation of aliens Deportation of immigrants
Illegal alien children Undocumented immigrant children
Women illegal aliens Women undocumented immigrants
Church work with aliens Church work with noncitizens


Work plan

Catalogers will keep using the LCSH terms but be aware of the changes in display. The alternative terms will be available and in the LibGuide and updated whenever it is needed.

  1. Conversion
    There are two ways we can work on the conversion, change the actual catalog record and change the display in PRIMO interface. While changing those terms in the catalog records sounds more permanent, it has its own challenges as below:
    • We are a part of CARLI and catalog records in Alma are not just our Library’s own but shared with all CARLI libraries. So all network zone records can be easily changed by either other member libraries. 
    • All catalog records in Alma can be refreshed by the OCLC Bib Notification work whenever the OCLC record has changes in main and additional access points, which will erase our change. 
    • The new terms are not in the LCSH yet.

    Because of these challenges, UC Berkeley and U. of Colorado added new terms to the catalog records instead of changing them, and several institutions work with their discovery layers rather than changing their catalog records, including Villanova, California State, and SUNY. The SUNY has an extensive document on how to work with PRIMO to display those terms (also available in the research document).

    We recommend that the Library change the display of those LCSH terms to those more appropriate DEIA compliant terms in PRIMO. Based on the preliminary discussion with the CAPT Discovery Group, the work can be done by setting up a new rule. (ACS updated all cataloging records in September 2021.)

  2. Catalogers

    Catalogers will keep using the LCSH terms but be aware of the changes in display. The alternative terms will be available and in the LibGuide and updated whenever it is needed. (Completed, Feb. 15, 2021)

  3. Digital Library (newly ingested collections + current collections)

    Current terms in the Digital Library System (DLS) will be evaluated for context and revised as necessary for DEIA efforts. Future subject and keyword terms describing content in the DLS will utilize the same evaluation and application of recommended terms. The Metadata Specialist will regularly audit subject and keyword terms to comply with the recommendations.

  4. On-going maintenance
    • The CAPT CMWG will closely monitor any updates/developments of the LCSH.
    • ACS will monitor LCSH terms that need to be changed.
    • ACS is going to review all bibliographic records with the LCSH term “Aliens” to identify whether the term is for the undocumented immigrants or extraterrestrial being, and make appropriate changes accordingly. (Completed, Feb. 9, 2021)

January 2021.