by Patricia Mendell, LCSW with Patricia Sarles, MA MLS
The Library of Congress (LC) recently announced that they were adding a subject heading to their catalog entitled, “Children of sperm donors”. What is the importance of this announcement? It is the first time there has been an official acknowledgement from a well-known and recognized library institution that children conceived with the assistance of a sperm donor warrant their own subject heading. The Library of Congress Subject Headings are considered the “de-facto standard” in the U.S. and around the world (particularly in English speaking countries) in establishing principal subject heading language. If the LC sanctions an official subject heading, then other countries will follow. This recognition by the LC, of the children of sperm donation, will contribute to elevating the status of the donor-conceived in the U.S. and around the world. My one regret, as a mental health practitioner who has worked in the field for over 25 years, is that this new subject heading addition is extremely limited in its scope, officially recognizing one group of donor children over another, instead of recognizing the importance of creating an all inclusive heading that recognizes all donor offspring, i.e. “Children of donor conception” or “Donor-conceived.”
In 2003, I approached Patricia Sarles, a research librarian, to assist me in locating children's picture books on disclosure. Patricia thought that this would be a simple project, only to be confounded by the fact that locating these books was much more involved. Prior to this search, the only significant list that had been compiled was by Elaine Gordon, PhD and Ellen Speyer, MFCC, members of the Education Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Mental Health Professionals Group(MHPG). After reviewing the MHPG booklist, we then turned to the Library of Congress. The LC categorizes books by subject thus making it easier to locate books on a certain topic. Initially, it appeared that the problems in finding these books were related to 1) the rapid growth of the field of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and donor conception, 2) the shifting world of publishing due to the Internet, and 3) the rise of self-publishing. To add to these problems was the discovery that well over 95% of the books had been self-published by donor-conceived families. The vast majority of the book authors were parents through donor conception, writing their own stories as a way to help their children and other donor families introduce and explain the special circumstances of their conception. But in the end, Patricia found that her biggest obstacle to locating these books was the failure of the LC to establish accurate subject headings that identified books about donor conception. There were no subject headings for children of donor conception. And it was only through Patricia’s skills as a research librarian that we were able to find such books. None of these LC books were listed under the subject headings: “Donor offspring,” “Children of gamete donors” (including egg donors, sperm donors or embryo adoption, “Donor-conceived," or “Children of surrogate mothers.” In fact, the most common subject headings used were: "Infertility,” “Babies”, “Test tube babies”, “Artificial insemination -- Human”, “Surrogate mothers”, and “Ovum -- Transplantation,” all of which appreciate the adults involved in these practices and none of which recognize the resulting children of these practices. As a result Patricia decided to write to the LC urging them to create a subject heading for Children of donor-conception.
This is what she wrote:
“There are many subject headings for "Children of -- ", i.e. Children of celebrities, Children of rabbis, Children of single parents, etc., but there are no subject headings for "Children of sperm donors" or "Children of surrogate mothers" or any of the assisted reproductive technologies. As a librarian, I have identified over 40 children’s and Young Adult (YA) books that have major characters who are the children of sperm donors, egg donors, etc., which is crucial to the plot and purpose of the book. Yet there is no subject heading under which to search for these books. There are more than enough to constitute the creation of a new LC subject heading. I would love to hear back from you on this as well. I’m a huge fan of the LC and I am at your site every day for my work.”
However, the LC responded:
“We have not had the need to establish a heading for the children of sperm donors, as we have not cataloged any items that specifically focus on that topic. The existing headings have been adequate for the items that we’ve cataloged. We establish new headings only as they are needed for cataloging new works being added to our collection.”
In August 2010 we published an article in Children & Libraries, entitled, Where Did I Really Come From?: Assisted Reproductive Technology in Self-Published Children’s Picture Books. It was after this publication that Patricia learned that Sanford Berman, a noted radical librarian, famous in the library profession for pressuring the Library of Congress to come up with new subject headings had publicly shared our article with other librarians. He subsequently wrote the LC and urged them to create a new subject heading for “Donor offspring”, based on the extensive bibliography we advanced in our article. Again, there was no response from the Library of Congress.
To our surprise, Sanford Berman sent a letter to Patricia just last week, informing her that the Library of Congress had finally decided to add a new subject heading: “Children of sperm donors.” Feeling that this heading was inadequate, he wrote the LC again, urging them to expand this subject heading to be more inclusive, using the heading “Donor offspring”.
While the Library of Congress’ new subject heading follows their own established format “Children of --,” as in “Children of gay parents,” and “Children of single parents,” (two official LC subject headings), it continues to be less than adequate and quite limiting for librarians and other professionals trying to help donor-conceived families find resources. If the subject heading must follow their standard format then we would suggest “Children of gamete donors;” other variants that could be used are “Children of donor conception,” “Donor-conceived,” or “Donor offspring.”
Patricia will continue to put pressure on the LC to add the subject heading "Children of donor conception” and/or “Donor-conceived". Patricia and I continue to discover more and more children's books; expanding the list from 38 titles in 2010, to 90 currently. In the majority of cases the authors have not registered their books with the copyright office of the Library of Congress. We urge all these authors to register their books with the Library of Congress, asking them to use the subject heading “Children of donor conception” or “Donor-conceived.”
It is our belief that this new Library of Congress subject heading is too limited. Given the increasing number of publications about children of gamete donation, we strongly encourage the Library of Congress to establish a subject heading that represents all children of gamete donation. This change would make it possible for librarians, professionals and most importantly all donor offspring and their families to have easy and complete access to every book about children of donor conception.
Patricia Mendell, LCSW
Patricia Sarles, MA, MLS
For more information, to contact the authors, or a list of books for children explaining donor conception, you can visit:
and for a list of books for teenagers with donor offspring characters, you can visit: