One World, Many Languages

When he accepted the Oscar for Foreign Language Film for Roma, Alfonso Cuaron said that he grew up watching foreign language films like Citizen Kane and Jaws and The Godfather. Since the creation of this category in 1956, it’s been pretty clear that the Academy Awards is “America first” or “English first.” Though Alfonso’s comments may not affect much change at the Oscars, it definitely got me thinking about our work toward inclusiveness at the library.

In my last post, I shared about our months-long relabeling project to improve access and representation in our DVD collection. In addition to discontinuing the “miscellaneous” language category and filing the films under their specific languages, we’ve taken this opportunity to update the umbrella term for this specific section of the media collection. Instead of “Foreign,” the section will now be labeled “World.”

Why are we doing this? By definition, “foreign” implies otherness, strangeness, and outside-ness. When we were discussing this collection in our Diversity and Inclusion task force, we immediately knew we wanted a word that didn’t designate English as the default. We considered “International,” but with the size of our labels, we thought that would be weird to abbreviate so it could fit. So we chose “World” instead. An added benefit, unlike international, “world” encompasses languages that aren’t associated with a national entity. It’s also consistent with other world language collections in the library.

How are patrons going to find this collection in the catalog? Because the Academy still uses “foreign films,” and we assume patrons will still use it when searching our catalog, we have decided to leave the 650_0 “Foreign films” subject heading in the records for now. However, we are also adding the local subject heading, “World films.” Otherwise, the collection won’t be moving physically, so we’re pretty sure the regular browsers of these films will find them with no trouble.

It’s a small change, but now we hope this collection won’t imply to people who speak certain languages that they don’t belong. Because everyone belongs at our library.

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