||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (January 2011)|
|Born||October 6, 1933 (age 80)
|Education||Political science, BA
Library science, MS
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles
The Catholic University of America
Sanford Berman (born October 6, 1933) is a radical librarian (cataloger) known for promoting alternative viewpoints in librarianship and acting as a pro-active information conduit to other librarians around the world, mostly via public speaking, voluminous correspondence, and unsolicited "care packages" delivered via the U.S. Postal Service. Will Manley, columnist for the ALA publication, American Libraries referred to Berman as a 'bibliographic warrior.'
Berman was born in Chicago, Illinois. He attended University of California at Los Angeles, where he earned a B.A. in Political Science with minors in Sociology, Anthropology and English, and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After acquiring an M.S. in Library Science from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Berman began work as a librarian. He worked for the U.S. Army Special Services Libraries, West Germany (1962–1966) where he helped edit an underground press G.I. magazine titled 'Yin/Yang'; Schiller College, Kleiningersheim, West Germany (1966–1967) ; University of California at Los Angeles Research Library (1967–1968), where he rescued back runs of I. F. Stone's Weekly from the garbage ; University of Zambia Library, Lusaka, Zambia (1968–1970) ; Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University Library, Kampala, Uganda (1971–1972) ; and Hennepin County Library, Minnesota (1973–1999).
Alternative subject headings
Berman’s understanding of language fueled his desire to create the best cataloging record possible. He knew that one word might be perfectly acceptable to one individual but highly offensive to another. Berman stated, “The fact that a number of meanings may be assigned to a given word explains why messages are subject to misinterpretation and why our communication is open to misunderstandings.” Messages and therefore subject headings must convey an idea in a fashion free from prejudice. Berman realized the continued use of biased subject headings would significantly limit the ability of a patron to access materials in the collection. Berman also thought the use of language in headings should be clear, concise, and reflect the current usage of everyday people rather than only scientific or technical terms. Overall, the use of common language in subject headings would facilitate prompt retrieval of materials by the end user.
Berman also openly criticized centrally performed cataloging and standard cataloging tools that supported bias in subject headings. He stated, “[O]ur national cataloging products and services can’t be completely trusted and should not be accepted automatically nor uncritically by anyone who genuinely believes that cataloging should make material more rather than less accessible and retrievable.” Cataloging that was outright erroneous or inadequate rendered material inaccessible even though it was in the collection. Berman thought poor cataloging was a serious form of censorship. Libraries were supposed to oppose censorship and provide the widest possible spectrum of cultural, social, economic, political, religious, and sexual information. With this is mind, Berman indicated local libraries should make a conscious effort to describe accurately all materials in the catalog for a patron. A considerable amount of conscious effort meant including “public notes” to clarify unfamiliar concepts for patrons. The public notes would let a patron know whether or not an item would suit his or her information needs. Furthermore, Berman opposed the practice of not cataloging all important aspects of works. Patrons cannot access materials when they have not been fully catalogued.
The spark of Berman's cataloging revolution was the inclusion in Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) of the term kaffir, which he came across while working in Zambia: "Berman was told by offended black fellow-workers that calling someone a kafir was similar to being called a nigger in America" (Pendergrast[clarification needed]).
This motivated him to systematically address subject heading bias in his work at Hennepin County Library and in writing "Prejudices and Antipathies: a Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People". The work, published in two editions, examines racism, sexism, Christocentrism, and other biases inherent in the LCSH. Berman is also known for his role in encouraging the Library of Congress to drop such archaic headings as WATER CLOSET in favor of common terminology.
With other Minnesota librarians, as well as nationally and internationally, Berman is known for promoting activist librarianship in which personal ideals entailing social justice are part and parcel of professional work. Thanks to this advocacy the American Library Association's official policy recognizes librarians' key role in addressing social ills.
With librarian James P. Danky, Berman has been the editor of Alternative Library Literature, (1982–2001) a biennial compilation of alternative essays on librarianship from a wide variety of other sources. Berman's other titles include The Joy of Cataloging and Worth Noting. He is the original radical librarian; his followers refer to themselves as 'sandynistas' or guerrilla cataloguers. He was a founding member of a group known as the "Revolting Librarians" who published a manifesto about library-related issues.
He is the founder of the American Library Association's Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force, a division of The Social Responsibilities Round Table which he also co-founded. During recent years he has written and lectured on the failure of ALA and American libraries to help the poor and homeless. In June 2005 he gave the Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture at the annual ALA conference, dedicated to the founder of OLOS.
During the last six months of 2005, working with the assistance of Steve Fesenmaier, Berman convinced the Library of Congress to create many new subject headings, including: "American Dream," "Plutocracy," "West Virginia Mine Wars, 1897-1921" "The Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921," and several others.
Sandy Berman was also very vocal in his support of the anti-apartheid movements during the period preceding its abolition in South Africa. His voice against the conservative library organizations and support for LIWO (Library and Information Workers' Organisation) was heard on many platforms and forums.
Having retired in 1999, Berman continues to solicit the Library of Congress for additions and modifications to the LCSH system. Since 2005, he has led an effort to honor American labor leaders Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and Eugene Debs with commemorative postage stamps.
- Dave Wood (August 13, 1995). "Pretty booky: He's writing about reading books on books". Star Tribune.
- Peg Meier (August 16, 1993). "Librarian complains it's hard to find everything you always wanted to know". Star Tribune.
- Barrett Pashak (September 27, 1999). "Women do it to Dewey: a University of Alberta team plans to feminize library book classifications". British Columbia Report.
- Jean Weihs (2009). "Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front". Feliciter.
- Strickler, Jeff (September 14, 2012). "Putting his stamp on history". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
- Dodge, Chris; DeSirey, Jan (1995). Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman But Were Afraid to Ask. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0081-1.
- Roberto, K.R., ed. (2008). Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-3543-2.