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U.S. Library of Congress created two furry subject headings in 2017

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A drawing of a fox reading a book. When you look up library books on a computer, typically you get a description that goes something like this:

Title: Out of position
Author: Gold, Kyell
Publisher: St. Paul, Minn. : Sofawolf Press, 2014.
Description: viii, 324 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.
ISBN: 9780979149696
Subjects: Anthropomorphism--Fiction.
Gay college students--Fiction.
Football players--Fiction.

In the Subjects section, the first word or phrase in each of those lines is called a subject heading. The example above has five of them: Tiger, Foxes, and so on.

Subject headings are really useful for understanding what a book is about, especially if the title is artistically vague. A book with the title "High hopes" would be more meaningful if you knew the subject was "Mountaineers--Biography" or "Marijuana--Therapeutic use".

Ok, so what? Well, librarians aren't allowed to write whatever they want in the Subject section. Otherwise an angry, insane librarian would put in something like "AUUUUGH BEES". Instead, the Subject section is based on a "controlled vocabulary" of pre-approved words, usually from a list called the Library of Congress Subject Headings (or LCSH for short). It's a huge list, and allows librarians to build more meaningful subjects by adding suffixes like "--Fiction" or "--History--20th century".

Some subject headings are extremely specific, like "Bat-compatible mine gates". Some are general and vague, like "Interpersonal relations". Some are next to impossible to guess unless you already know they're in the list, like "Generative organs, Male".

Of course, as time goes on, the LCSH gets changed. Subjects get added or updated. I don't know how this is done - probably by a committee somewhere. Their decisions are sometimes quickly applied, or can be excruciatingly slow. For example, if you wanted to look up books about cooking, would you have used the term "Cookery"? Probably not. The LCSH didn't update the term to "Cooking" until 2010.

Now the headline should make more sense. Two furry subject headings were created in 2017! I was able to find a list of references that were used as proofs of validity:

The first one, Furry fandom (Subculture), was based on five references:

  • Fred Patten's Furry fandom conventions book ("An adult social group interested in anthropomorphic animals in art, literature and culture"),
  • The Fursonas documentary ("This documentary transcends its bizarre premise to tell a universal story of identity and community"),
  • The Furries among us essays from Thurston Howl Publications,
  • A thesis at San Francisco State University in 2013 by Sarah Marie Henry, Furries, fans and feminism: querying and queering the furry fandom,
  • And a thesis at Texas State University in 2012 by Sherry A. Jeansonne, Breaking down stereotypes: a look at the performance of self-identity within the furry community ("The furry fandom has recently gained considerable exposure in the mass media").

If you look up "Furry fandom" in LCSH, you can see other subcultures are in there too, including gay culture, goths, mods, punks, rockers, and steampunk.

The second subject heading is Furries. It had some of the same references, as well as:

  • The 2014 how-to-draw book, Furries furever ("Draw fascinating furries! There's so much to explore in the world of furries, from flamboyant costumes to spectacular hair styles to unforgettable expressions and poses"),
  • And a 2009 BBC article, Who are the furries? ("Furries are people who have a fascination with anthropomorphic animals. These are animals that are given human traits, like walking and talking. They can be anything from cartoons characters like Bugs Bunny to computer game personalities like Pokemon ... Some furries assume animal traits - known as zoomorphism - and identify strongly with certain species. This can range from adopting an online persona to wearing a tail or full-sized fur suits").

In LCSH, "Furries" is a sub-category of "Fans (Persons)"; it's listed alongside comic book fans, music fans, science fiction fans, and sports spectators. You may think that "Furries" sounds semantically confusing. Couldn't it apply to furry fans as well as to furry characters that fans create? It'll probably get used in both contexts! Librarians can be very anal or very flexible. Uhhh - to details, I mean. For example, the LCSH entry for "Anthropomorphism" seems to have originally been meant in a narrow religious sense, but since then, many librarians have used it to describe a much broader range of books.

All right! So now what? Well, the bad news is, anything furry that's already in a library's computer system... probably won't get retroactively edited to include the new subject headings. If an older book gets released in a new edition, chances are a lazy librarian will simply copy and paste the old headings. Still, if a librarian is in a good mood and has some spare time (ha!), then yes, they might update an individual record they come across.

And what about new books? Well, it depends on a librarian knowing that the subject headings exist! LCSH created them last year, and I only found out about them yesterday, accidentally, while I was looking up something on sports fans.

When I say "books", I'm over-simplifying. A library's computer system can include records for DVDs, web pages, e-books, streaming videos, academic magazine articles... all sorts of things. Has anything been given the new subject headings? Yes! Not much (yet) - Here are some that I found after a quick search. (I was in a hurry though, so I wasn't able to get the details.)

Anyway, this LCSH thing probably won't have a big effect on the fandom, but I'm happy that it showed up. However - if you're a furry author, and if you're working with a publisher, find out if the publisher creates any CIP data before the book comes out. If they do, ask to speak to their cataloging person, and insist that they try to include one of the new subject headings in the book's description!

Update: Thanks to a tip from @Violetbfox, we can thank librarian Netanel Ganin for having put in the proposals for both headings!

I'll close this off with one of my favorite panels from J.P. Morgan's Fission Chicken comics:

A librarian explains to a patron that he shouldn't borrow all of the library's books about peat moss at the same time.

And remember...

A picture of a running cheetah with the caption, Reading enhances performance.


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Fission Chicken was a great comic. R.I.P. J.P.

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That's pretty cool to hear about!

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Furry's gone too mainstream, I'm out!

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I was a fur before it was cool.

Edit: A fur! Remember; keep furry for the characters, fur for the people.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Unfortunately, according to the article, the Library of Congress didn't get that memo from Furry Nation

In LCSH, "Furries" is a sub-category of "Fans (Persons)";

So having furry nation tagged in a way that describes fur fans by the library of congress in a way the book itself was trying to move away from is a tragic irony!

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Wait, who made up this rule?

I've been around for a long, long time and this is the first I've heard this.

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Was a suggestion made in the book "Furry Nation" in a way to clarify when you are talking about furry content vs furry fans.

The content is "furry" the content is "furs"

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The people are furs... I meant

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As Sonious says, It came from Joe Strike's Furry Nation. He had some aesthetic reasons for it as well but the main bonus is that the current usage of furries is ambiguous and people use furs and furries interchangeably. Using furries for furry characters and furs for furry fans removes the ambiguity and makes our language clearer. I would say that is a huge bonus, especially considering how many arguments online are due to small miscommunications.

Also, I know you're probably talking about in the fandom for a long time but I still had to laugh when I saw "Member for 8 hours 14 min."

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Now here's my question; would books with animal casts in general fall under the new furry categories, I.E. most books by Erin Hunter, or would only books with Anthro characters fit, what few and far between exist?

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Erin Hunter's Warriors series probably wouldn't get the new subjects, more likely they'd get "Cats--Juvenile Fiction" or "Feral cats--Juvenile Fiction". Subjects are added to be as specific as possible, and if the book's topics are difficult to express, then you add more to get as close as you can.

Talking and/or intelligent animals in children's books are common enough that the species is usually enough. Once you start getting into teen and adult fiction with more serious narratives, if the animal characters are still humanoid and living like people, then you start seeing subjects like in the Kyell Gold example I started with, "Anthropomorphism--Fiction", or now maybe "Furries--Fiction".

Your question brings up an issue that the fandom's debated on-and-off for a long time, though. The fandom tends to throw the word "furry" around a lot, and we generally understand the nuance by context. If I asked "What's a good furry film?" to another furry fan, they'd know I meant films like Zootopia. But if I asked "What's a good furry webcomic?", now we're in debatable territory. Am I asking for "Webcomics drawn by a furry artist", "Webcomics whose content is targeted at furry fandom", or "Webcomics from either inside or outside the fandom that would appeal to furry fans regardless of the intended target audience"?

Another way to look at subject headings... if I did a subject search for "Furries--Fiction", and the computer spit out recommendations on werewolves, Bugs Bunny, and Egyptian gods, that would probably be a misuse of the subject, because I was being very specific and some librarian somewhere was trying to be a bit too helpful. In reality though, the question is whether a librarian who's never heard of the fandom would even know what the terms mean. Generally, a librarian who's unfamiliar with a subject will look up what else it's been used for, and judges whether it would also fit the book they've got. The application of subjects in libraries can be messy and two librarians can easily disagree about them!

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Wow. As a librarian (retired), I feel honored to be co-responsible for two new subject headings.

Fred Patten

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While looking into this, I found that Flayrah has had its own far more minor impact on the world of serials – it was mentioned in a paper I don't have access to, but its use as an example in the revised ISSN Manual suggests it was to do with recording the presence of a work in two separate forms - in our case, both on both the web as HTML, and in Amazon's own e-Reader format. I knew publishing on the Kindle would pay off! (And filing for an ISSN, natch. Now, if only I could get them to update our record...)

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"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Oh hey! We got a screenshot too... if only of our CONSER record. I see a tantalising option to register a category...

In a way, they're wrong to say "the title and content are the same on each [syndicated] site", because the syndicated versions (other than Kindle) only contain the lede. However, links in those versions go to the main website, which does have the same content.

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Yup! Thank you Fred! :-)

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And when is someone going to reprint Cairyn's "Khiray of the River"? I bought it at one of the early Further Confusions, and I still remember it as an excellent furry novel.

Fred Patten

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