On Giants and Dwarfs

This world wasn’t really designed for the very short or the very tall. Countertops, seat-to-floor ratios, clothing, beds, and a slew of other everyday encounters can be radically challenging for outliers on the height spectrum. I can’t really do anything about that beyond raising awareness, not my area.

Sorry, Very Tall Man
Sorry, Very Tall Man

But librarianship is my area, so let’s talk some LCSH.

I want to draw your attention to two words which (thanks, English) can be used to mean “tall/short person” or “mythological/legendary character”


 

Giants and Dwarfs

Both (in people) are more than simply observing someone’s height and noting that it’s outside the mean. Rather, they refer to specific conditions which have accompanying traits that a person may want to be aware of in terms of their body’s functions.

Though the word ‘giant’ isn’t used in common language for people (I browsed a bunch of the Tall Clubs International, affiliated sites and none of them use the term ‘giant’), ‘dwarf’ is. (See Dwarf Athletic Association of America

or per Peter Dinklage

I loved The Lord of the Rings as books and movies but, like elves, dwarves are presented as another creature. They are not humans in those stories. We don’t have elves walking around, but we do have dwarves like myself. We are real.

 

Unfortunately LCSH does not make this distinction:

Dwarfs clearly refers to people as it’s an NT of Short people, but it’s classification links (from the 053 field) are

GN69.3.-5      Anthropology—Physical anthropology. Somatology—Human variation—Physical form and dimensions—Body dimensions and proportions—Special variations—Dwarfs. Midgets

GR555              Folklore—By subject—Dwarfs

The former refers to people (the fact that former headings are kept in the caption is something else entirely and one which LC seems unlikely to change).

The latter refers to magical fantasy creatures from Germanic mythology.

 

Giants is an NT of Abnormalities, Human (but not Tall people) but its NTs include Adamastor (Legendary character) and Laestrygonians (Greek mythology). Following the logical progression — the implication is either that Adamastor and the Laestrygonians are abnormal humans (they are not) or that LCSH is co-mingling the two usages of the term.

Further confusing the issue is that Amycus (Greek mythology) and Cyclopes (Greek mythology) are NTs of Giants–Mythology

Giants has a single classification link:

GN69         Anthropology—Physical anthropology. Somatology—Human variation—Physical form and                      dimensions—Body dimensions and proportions—Special variations—Giants

and thankfully not

GR560     Folklore—By subject—Ogres. Giants

 

So while Giants is less confused in LCSH than ‘Dwarfs’ is but both could benefit from being separated into two groups e.g.

Dwarfs (people) and Dwarfs (folklore)

Gigantism (condition) and Giants (folklore)


 

Now turning to live usage:

 

are all books about people which have the subject heading Giants

are all books about folkloric creatures which have the subject heading Giants


are all books about people which have the subject heading Dwarfs

are all books about folkloric creatures which have the subject heading Dwarfs


 

As the SHM Memo H 187 states: “Establish a subject heading for a topic that represents a discrete, identifiable concept”

They have failed in this regard and conflated personhood with folklore. Let’s rectify that.

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2 thoughts on “On Giants and Dwarfs

  1. Netanel, thanks for an interesting, vigorous and rigorous argument! There is actually a scene in the novel “The Giant’s House,” by former librarian Elizabeth McCracken, describing a librarian’s struggle with these very LCSHs after a reference interview with her favorite patron, a teenager whom she thinks of until this point in the story as “overly tall.”

    “I want books about people like me.[…]Very tall people. Like me.[…]What they do.”

    He doesn’t find anything under the subject headings suggested by the librarian:
    “‘Those are the books of subject headings for the card catalog. Look under words that you think describe your topic.'[…]’Look under Dig around. Try height, try stature.'”

    So the librarian continues researching after hours:
    “I went to the big volumes of subject headings. Looking under height and stature turned up nothing; anthropometry was not quite right. Then I realized the word I was looking for: Giant.
    Giant described him. Giant, I knew, would lead me to countless things—not just the word, located in indexes and catalogs and encyclopedias, but the idea of Giant, the knowledge that the people that James wanted to read about, people who could be described as like him, were not just tall but giants. I sat in a spindle-backed chair in the reference room, waiting for a minute. Then I checked the volume of the Library of Congress subject headings. Giants. See also: dwarves.[…]
    “I found several encyclopedias entries.[…]I wrote down the page and volume numbers, thinking that I could not bear to tell him the word to look under.[…]
    “The worst book was called Medical Curiosities.[…]I found it under the subject heading Abnormalities, human. A terrible phrase, and one I knew I could not repeat to James.”

    The librarian’s feeling that she has to shield the young patron from the subject headings, combined with her misinterpretation of the patron’s question, lead to a botched reference interview.

    Like

    1. Wow, thanks so much — both for the kind words and this excerpt! Very good to know others have noticed this issue, I’m hoping that I can get it resolved

      Like

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