By examining the treatment of perversion and queer topics by the Library of Congress, Adler (Library and Information Science/Univ. of Kentucky) strives to make a case for the inadequacy of its systems to organize topics outside the norm.
The author begins with an examination of Library of Congress subject headings and its attempts to describe materials about perverse sexual behavior. It’s important to note—and Adler does not do it particularly well until the end of her argument—that her use of the terms “perversity” and “perversion” is neutral rather than negative, even as she takes LoC to task for using them to pathologize nonnormative sexuality. Nevertheless, her argument that the opaque catchall term “paraphilias,” used to describe both books about consensual kink and those about criminal sexual behavior including bestiality and pedophilia, is wholly inadequate is a powerful one. Her history of LoC’s so-called Delta Collection, its closed repository of erotica and pornography, is fascinating, though it’s also tendentiously burdened by metaphor: Adler draws on Foucault, Nabokov, and Borges, as well as the myth of the Minotaur, to envision the relationship of the Delta Collection to the larger library. Adler’s chapter on “Mapping Perversion” is the most poignant, as she examines the inherent inadequacy of “a vast heteropatriarchal classification” to encompass intersectionality. In remarking on the adoption of the tools of LoC by libraries across the country and even around the world, she describes its catalog “as a colonized space” that has become “an instrument of cultural domination.” Adler’s envisioned audience is unclear. Her prose is dense, technical, and larded with exclusionary critical language. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine a general audience for a book about library cataloging. Nevertheless, Adler attempts to bridge the gap between the practitioner and the nonlibrarian scholar with occasional detours to explain such arcana as how LCSH works and the origins of LoC itself.
Tailor-made for the critlib movement, this demonstration that the Library of Congress is not a neutral space begs one critical question: where should it be shelved?