Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Library of Congress Finally Acknowledges Donor Offspring: (But this is only a beginning)

In 2009, I published an article for the American Fertility Association entitled, "Librarians at a Loss to Help Donor Offspring," which I just last month reworked for the AASL blog. In it, I talked about the difficulty identifying books for parents and donor offspring children due to a lack of recognition by the Library of Congress in the form of an official subject heading. In 2010, Patricia Mendell and I published an article in Children & Libraries about self-published children's picture books about assisted reproductive technology. It included an extensive annotated bibliography of about 38 titles which was the entire number of books that we were able to identify at that time. (The number of children's books on that topic has since doubled).

The list was significant because, other than the list first published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and compiled by Elaine Gordon, PhD and Ellen Speyer, MFT and the ASRM Education Committee, there was no other comprehensive list of children's books on this subject. As a librarian, such a list should have been a breeze to compile. I figured I would start with ASRM's list and then search for those books in the Library of Congress, see what subject headings were assigned to catalog them, and then create a new list. Well, it turned out, that would be impossible as the Library of Congress had no subject headings for "Donor offspring," "Children of gamete donors, or "Children of surrogate mothers," let alone subject headings for children of egg donors, sperm donors, or embryo adoption. Having already identified a few titles about these subjects that were included in the Library of Congress, but not cataloged as such, I wrote to them and suggested they create a new subject heading, "Donor-conceived," defined as individuals who have been created via sperm, eggs, or embryos donated by another person (a gamete donor). I also figured that since I myself was a librarian, my suggestion would have some influence. This is what I wrote:
There are many subject headings for "Children of --", i.e. Children of celebrities, Children of rabbis, Children of single parents, etc., but there are no subject headings for "Children of sperm donors" or "Children of surrogate mothers" or any of the assisted reproductive technologies. As a librarian, I have identified over 40 children's and YA books that have major characters who are the children of sperm donors, egg donors, etc., which is crucial to the plot and purpose of the book. Yet there is no subject heading under which to search for these books. My lists are here: and here: if you would like to see the books I've identified. There are more than enough to constitute the creation of a new LC subject heading. I would love to hear back from you on this as well. I'm a huge fan of the LC and I am at your site every day for my work.
However, this is the response I received:
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 of 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.
Not deterred, I wrote back to them:
How about "Artificial insemination, Human -- Offspring" or "Surrogate mothers -- Offspring?" These subject headings focus on the parents who produce these children, but there are no subjects yet for the donor-conceived. For example, the book: Sperm Donor Offspring: Identity and Other Experiences by Lynne W. Spencer, has as its subject headings: "Sperm banks -- United States" and "Artificial insemination, Human" but other than the title, the average patron might not know that this is a book about donor offspring if they were searching for a book that addressed the specific concerns of donor offspring.
And this is what they wrote back:
Our practice has been to use headings such as "Artificial insemination, Human" and "Surrogate motherhood" to catalog works on this topic.
That was in April 2009. Fast forward to June 2012 when I received a letter from noted radical librarian Sanford Berman, who is to the Library of Congress what Socrates was to ancient Athens and who is the subject of his own biography, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman But Were Afraid to Ask. He read our article in Children & Libraries in August 2010 and himself wrote to the Library of Congress on our behalf suggesting they add the subject heading "Donor offspring" based on the extensive list of children's books put forth in our article. His letter informed me that the Library of Congress had finally decided to create a new subject heading for "Children of sperm donors." I jumped out of my chair when I read this! While some would like to believe that this announcement by the Library of Congress marks the beginning of an official public acknowledgement recognizing the existence of families created with the help of donors, the reality is that once again the rights of the donor-conceived are still being only partially represented and totally misunderstood. It is clear that the Library of Congress, in creating this new subject heading for "Children of sperm donors," has shown that they lack a genuine understanding of the donor offspring created with gamete donation, but also the implications both medically and psychologically surrounding the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART), as they also use the subject heading "Test tube babies" for children conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF) even though they are created in petri dishes and not test tubes.

While their new subject heading follows their own convention for "Children of --," as in "Children of gay parents," and "Children of single parents," (two official LC subject headings), it is less than adequate and quite limiting for librarians trying to help these families find resources, as only one group of donor offspring is represented - children of sperm donors. If the subject heading must be listed under children, then it should be entitled "Children of gamete donors." Other variants then could be "Donor-conceived" or "Donor offspring."

While some will feel positively now that the Library of Congress has at last begun to acknowledge children created through donation with the assistance of another person, my colleague and co-author Patricia Mendell is less optimistic. "As a mental health practitioner who has been working in the field of reproductive medicine for over 25 years, the decision by the Library of Congress to create a subject heading for only one group of donor offspring is not only disappointing and frustrating, but hurtful and offensive to the thousands of donor-conceived individuals and their families who have been created with the help of assisted reproductive technologies."

When I decided to write to the Library of Congress in 2009, it was clear that they needed to create an all encompassing subject heading for the donor-conceived. Also, using the subject heading "Donor-conceived" would be the best and most accurate subject heading since it would recognize all individuals created with the help of a donor. The subject heading "Children of sperm donors" used for "Sperm donors' children," seems to imply an ownership or affiliation that may or may not feel accurate to the donor-conceived.

While the next step might be to get the Library of Congress to create subject headings for "Children of egg donors," "Children of surrogate mothers," and "Children of embryo donation," we would suggest instead that they look at the subject heading "Donor-conceived." Although it was possible to find some of this material using the existing Library of Congress subject headings like "Infertility," and "Artificial insemination -- Human," there was nothing that identified the experience of being a donor offspring. Books such as Janice Grimes' book series, Before you were born: our wish for a baby were cataloged as "Artificial insemination -- Human." And the Iréné Celcer series, Hope and Will have a baby was cataloged with "Infertility," and "Test tube babies" as subject headings. These subject headings were wholly inaccurate and inadequate. So how to find these books will remain a big challenge if one is looking for books about those conceived via surrogate mother, egg, and embryo donation.

I plan to continue to write to the Library of Congress and share with them the books that I have discovered without the help of a Library of Congress subject heading, urging them to create further change in how they catalog their books for this population of children. We know that of the many children's books on this subject, over 95 percent have been self-published, but many have not been sent to the copyright office of the Library of Congress. We would ask that these authors register their books and in so doing put pressure on the Library of Congress that they must, and need to, have a subject heading for "Donor-conceived."

 This post was co-authored with Patricia Mendell


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