Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Librarians at a Loss to Help Donor Offspring

I do research. It might be why I became a librarian. I love to look things up, and then I enjoy the thrill of finding what I am looking for. I also enjoy looking things up for other people. But one of my favorite things to do is to look up subjects that are hard to find. But first you have to find subjects that are hard to find, and then try to find them. Well, I stumbled upon one. It’s books for and about donor offspring. What are donor offspring? They are children conceived via sperm or egg donation.

In 2003, I read a book review in Booklist of the book, Donuthead, by Sue Stauffacher. In the review, it was mentioned that the main character’s mother had had her son via artificial insemination. Serendipitously, I mentioned this to a friend who had an interest in this topic and she said, can you find me other books like that? Excited to perform a search, I said, “sure.” (I actually consider searching a hobby). So of course the first thing I did was go to the Library of Congress. I was going to take a look at their subject headings and just follow them and it would lead me to similar books. Well not so fast. It didn’t happen that way at all. The subjects listed for Donuthead were:

Friendship
Courage
Fear
Self-actualization (Psychology)
Single-parent families
Mothers and sons 

Where were the subject headings telling me that the main character was donor-conceived? There were none. Okay. Dead end. I wasn’t expecting that. Where do I go next? I decided to broaden my search by doing a keyword search. Of course this was an option from the beginning, I just wasn’t happy about it. I thought this would be easy. I searched the term “donor offspring” as that is what adults conceived via gamete donor call themselves. A search for this term turned up one book, Experiences of donor conception : parents, offspring, and donors through the years by Caroline Lorbach. I looked at the subject headings and decided to use those to again narrow my search. I found as subject headings:

Human reproductive technology
Infertility – Treatment
Reproductive health

This was not helpful. I was looking for juvenile fiction similar to Donuthead in which the main character was a “donor offspring.” I wanted to impress my friend with my searching skills. Maybe there were no other books? Could be. Long story short, there were other books. The trick was to use so many different keywords to actually find them, but I did find some. But why no uniform subject headings for books that were essentially all about the same subject? I wrote to the Library of Congress about this myself. I gave them the list of all the books I had found that were written for children, and that were in their catalog, who were donor offspring and this is the response I got:
We have not had the need to establish a heading for the children of sperm donors, as we have not cataloged any items that specifically focus on that topic. The existing headings have been adequate for the items that we’ve cataloged. We establish new headings only as they are needed for cataloging new works being added to our collection.
Why were they not responsive? And from a librarian no less? A little reading on the Library of Congress turns out that they have a history of not being responsive to adding or changing their subject headings. Have you heard of Sanford Berman, Library of Congress gadfly? Turns out he’s been battling the Library of Congress to change its subject headings for years so that real people, not just librarians, can find what they are looking for. He actually cited me in an article I wrote so I decided to write to him, and I was happy to hear that he not only read my article in Children & Libraries, but employed his gadfly expertise to lobby them to add a new subject heading. I suggested “Children of sperm donors,” or “Children of egg donors,” or “Children of gamete donors.” Surely these children need representation in the Library of Congress as the Library of Congress subjects headings are the “de facto standard for libraries,” as Hope A. Olson states in her book, The Power to Name. Isn’t it in naming something that we acknowledge that something, someone exists? The existence of these children were not acknowledged by the Library of Congress. At the time I wrote to them, I had discovered thirteen children’s books that were written either for donor offspring children, or about donor offspring children. Thirteen! (And I have since found so many more). And maybe thirteen doesn’t sound like a lot, but did you know that the Library of Congress has just one book on the children of epileptics, yet this category of people gets its own subject heading? Same for the children of clergy in England, the children of coal miners in France, and the children of mentally ill mothers, to name a few. Just one book each! Yet I had identified so many more for the subject I was proposing be added, but the Library of Congress does not budge on these matters apparently. So where does this leave us? It leaves us with people like me who love to look for the hard-to-look-for. I have ended up having to use up to thirty different keywords to find books that could be found with just one subject heading: “donor offspring,” or, to follow Library of Congress conventions, “Children of gamete donors.” But I have managed. To date I have found about seventy-six books written for donor offspring children, and I have found about fifteen books written for young adults, and boy has it been fun searching for the unsearchable. I will continue to publish about this as nobody else is, and maybe the Library of Congress will eventually listen.

2 comments:

  1. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.





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  2. becoming librarian means to be become a encyclopedia lol :P
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