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Posted on Dec 2, 2019

California State University Libraries to change the display of the subject heading “Illegal Aliens” in joint public catalog

This article was written by CSU Libraries on December 2nd, 2019.

The California State University library faculty and staff agree with a resolution adopted in 2016 by the Library of Congress, which states that “the terms ‘illegal’ and ‘alien,’ when used in reference to people, have undergone pejoration and acquired derogatory connotations, becoming increasingly associated with nativist and racist sentiments.” As such, they are no longer appropriate for unbiased library cataloging that respects and reflects our diverse society.

Therefore, in the Unified Library Management System (ULMS) shared by the CSU Libraries, all instances of the subject heading “aliens” will be remapped to display “noncitizens,” and the subject heading “illegal aliens” will be remapped to display “undocumented immigrants.” The older terms will continue to be searchable, but the new terms will be used in all public records. This change will go into effect in January 2020.


In 2016, in response to requests from a student group and university librarians at Dartmouth College and the American Library Association (ALA), the Library of Congress (LC) decided to revise and update the subject heading “Illegal aliens.” It is not uncommon for biased subject headings to be reformed, in line with changing social norms and language use. The Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), recommended “Noncitizens” and “Undocumented immigrants” as alternative subjects to “Aliens” and “Illegal aliens.” In response, for the first time ever, the House of Representatives objected to a decision regarding subject headings and ordered LC to continue using the term “Illegal aliens.”