Updating the Wessex classification scheme for UK health libraries : a case study in improving inclusion and diversity in a specialist classification scheme (2023)

Type of publication:Conference abstract

Author(s):*Curtis, Jason; Summers, Lotty

Citation:CILIP Metadata and Discovery Group Conference 2023. IET Birmingham: Austin Court, 6-8 September.

Abstract:The Wessex Classification Scheme was created by healthcare librarians in the South West of England, and was loosely based on the US National Library of Medicine classification. The scheme is widely used in healthcare libraries across the UK, both inside and outside the NHS. Although the scheme has gone through several revisions, there has been no major update since 2015, so the Wessex Classification Scheme Oversight Group was formed in September 2022 with the support of NHS England. The group aims to bring knowledge and skills from UK health library networks to improve the scheme, and also offers a chance for participants to develop skills in working with classification and subject indexing, and the opportunity to network widely. By forming a working group, it ensures the longevity of the scheme and shares the maintenance work more widely. Initially, members were asked which parts of the scheme they felt needed updating the most and sub-groups were formed for LGBTQ+ issues and gender identity (the Pride sub-group), Ethnicity and Race, and Learning Disability and Neurodiversity (the LDN sub-group) as well as a smaller team working on ‘quick and simple’ updates. The Pride sub-group undertook a review of the terminology and classification of items relating to the LGBTQ+ community, gender identity and gender affirming care and found that there were terms within the Wessex Classification Scheme that were no longer used or could be considered offensive, derogatory, or prejudicial. As a result of the review some terms were proposed to be removed completely (e.g. ‘hermaphroditism’) and other terms to be updated (e.g. ‘gender affirming surgery’ rather than ‘transsexual surgery’) using the Homosaurus as a guide in some cases. As part of the process, it was found that certain psychiatric topics were located within the same section as topics relating to sexual orientation and gender diversity. The sub-group believed this perpetuated a stereotype by linking these topics (e.g. paedophilia and incest) and so these were suggested to move from HQ to WM in the classification system. The Pride sub-group is committed to ensuring that the terms relating to the LGBTQ+ community are relevant and inclusive. Work by the Ethnicity and Race sub-group revealed terms within the Wessex subject index that were either outdated, problematic or more appropriate to a North American context than to a UK one. In addition to terms used to describe ethnic groups, related topics such as immigration, traditional medicine, homelessness and health inequalities were also considered. Appropriate sources of information were identified, and terms discussed, before making recommendations to the oversight group. The Learning Disabilities and Neurodiversity (LDN) sub-group is also looking at the language used in the subject index, and considering some broader changes to the classification schedules to bring together topics that are currently shelved in disparate areas of the classification. Some members of the LDN sub-group have lived experience of neurodiversity and are able to bring their experience to the work of the sub-group.

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