Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday jams (04/29/16)

I needed Friday jams today. I just did. Because my life is really, really busy and sometimes the best thing to do is just stop and have a dance party.

So I've been trying to work on some self care, and getting back to writing on the blog is one of the things that I need to be doing for myself. Reflecting on why this blog is something I want to do can be summarized by one Miss Missy Elliott. Gotta be writing rhymes everyday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

And when I start to feel it making sense for me

So...let's talk about this story that circulated last week about the Representative from Tennessee who wants to introduce legislation to force the Library of Congress to reverse its decision to cancel the heading Illegal aliens and, in its place, use the headings Noncitizen and Unauthorized immigration. It seems likely that this proposed piece of legislation is little more than a push for attention by a person who is up for reelection. After all, what better way to make a name for oneself than taking on the bastion of political correctness that is Library of Congress.

I think this story surfaces, again, an issue that I've written about before: the Library of Congress is not the U.S. national library even though we in the U.S. library community treat it as if it were. We use the Library of Congress' thesaurus and classification scheme for subject cataloging even though many in the U.S. cataloging community have been talking for many years about its flaws and working for many years to try to correct "-ist" headings and class numbers.

And while it would be fun to talk more about the problematic nature of treating the Library of Congress as de facto U.S. National Library, I think that there is a more important issue that this story surfaces: cataloging is not a neutral act.

While it's true that catalogers are taught to be objective in how they are taught to describe the objects they're tasked with cataloging, this feels impossible. One could argue that it feels less impossible in descriptive cataloging, because it is easier to be object about, say, the publisher of a book than the subject of that book. But this feeling of impossibility is even baked into our content standards, which leave room for "cataloger's judgment." In some cases, the standards reason, a cataloger will have to interpret a rule and apply it in a way that makes the most sense to them. Which means that even descriptive cataloging --the part of cataloging that is meant to have the greatest chance of objectivity--isn't actually all that objective.

And while it feels like a challenge to talk about objectivity in descriptive cataloging, it feels wholly impossible to talk about objectivity in subject cataloging. If the language itself isn't neutral, how can we be expected to be objective in our application of that language?

I have long thought that in addition to talking about cataloger's judgment, we should also talk about cataloger's bias. So, let's do that. One of the definitions Merriam-Webster gives for bias is "an inclination of temperament or outlook, especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment." And when we talk about cataloging--especially subject cataloging--that makes sense to me.

Catalogers bring to bear on the works they catalog a lifetime of lived experience. It is impossible to put away that lived experience in order to describe works in an objective fashion. And it is both disingenuous to library users and unfair to catalogers to continue to perpetuate this....lie. As a middle-class, white, cisgender woman, I can't put away my lived experience in order to describe the things I catalog--nor should I. And I shouldn't expect that my colleagues from marginalized groups to do the same.

So how do we reckon with this? How do we acknowledge cataloger's bias and then move through a flawed system in order to order the objects we are tasked with describing? I think we do it in two ways.

1. Appreciate the lived experiences of your colleagues and your users and think about how this is reflected in your metadata.
My experience with the heading Illegal aliens is different than someone who has lived that experience, which means I should believe them when they say that this terminology is dehumanizing. The same goes with any number of "-ist" subject headings. If someone tells you that the words you're using in your metadata to describe them invalidates their lived experiences, take that seriously. Don't dismiss it because their lived experience is not the same as yours.

2. Educate yourself and your users.
If you are unclear about your place in creating and maintaining oppressive systems, you have some work to do. I wrote before about how you have to understand your place in an oppressive system before you can dismantle it. Read everything you can and have hard conversations with you friends and your colleagues about white privilege and oppression. If you need a starting point for educating yourself, April Hathcock's blog has a lot of great posts on intersectionality and on doing the work.

If you have a relationship with library users, you should use every appropriate opportunity to talk about catalog records and bias and how the material you retrieve when you search is based on biased algorithms. It seems likely that making the catalog as transparent as possible for users will help them find the material they seek while navigating the biased language of subject headings. Emily Drabinski's article, "Queering the Catalog," is a great read when thinking about how to bring users into the conversation about metadata. And anything you can read by Safiya Noble is great for thinking about algorithmic bias.

There are a wealth of tools out there to help you get started in thinking about how to educate yourself and your users. If you have other ideas, feel free to drop them in the comments!

While coming to terms with cataloger's bias is both challenging and uncomfortable, it's unbelievably necessary. We cannot continue to believe that cataloging is a neutral act. And the quicker we move on from that point, the quicker we can help our users identify how to get the best information they need to complete the task at hand.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Step two! There's so much we can do

I didn't watch Parks and Recreation, so I know relatively little about Nick Offerman from that context. My introduction to Offerman was in his capacity as a writer. He spoke at ALA Annual 2015 behind Gumption, whose twenty-one chapters profile twenty-one historic figures. When I heard Offerman read from Gumption, I was struck by the eloquence of his prose and his admiration for the people about which he had written. He was funny, sure, but he was also wise.

Offerman owns a wood shop and in addition to being a writer and an actor, he does woodworking. You might've seen the clip of Offerman giving Stephen Colbert a table? If not, its right there.

In advance of his new book, Good Clean Fun, Offerman did an interview with Etsy about what it's like to own a wood shop and to be a woodworker. And while it does have some great wisdom on woodworking and living a DIY lifestyle, it also has some great wisdom about life. When asked about the most valuable lesson he's learned from woodworking, Offerman writes:
I'd say patience is the most important thing I've learned from woodworking. From the get-go, all of my great teachers, many of whom have only communicated with me through the writing they've left behind, have said: Slow down and do this one step at a time.
This segues nicely into something I learned about myself at an in-house training last week. We were asked to talk about whether we saw ourselves as big picture people or as a details people and then, later, if we saw ourselves as visionaries or implementers. I suspect you think you know what I would say, and I also suspect that you might not be correct. While I might come across as a details person who enjoys implementing, I actually operate more as a visionary who is interested in the big picture.

Honestly? As a big picture person, details sometimes fill me with a sense of overwhelm. I can envision what I want the outcome of a project to be or what I want a final product to look like with relative ease. But I find the process of getting from what I pictured in my mind to the the tangible, final product a panic inducing one. While I love writing the blog, the blank page that signifies the start of another post fills me with the smallest hint of dread because I'm not sure how I'm going to shape my thoughts into words that you (hopefully) want to read.

Offerman's quote reminds me that whatever the project or product, it isn't a good use of energy to be overwhelmed with how to get from the starting line to the finish line. It is important to have an idea in mind when you start, yes. But instead of obsessing about how to get to the end from the beginning, it's more valuable to think about how to get from the starting line to the end point of the first step. Then, when you've finished the first step, you can direct your attention to getting from that point to the end point of the second step.

I'm going to try to keep Offerman's advice in mind the next time I'm working on getting from the endpoint in my mind to the actual product of my work. Slow down and do this thing one step at a time.

Stay positive,

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday jams (04/08/2016)

It's Friday, friends of the blog! Time to kick out the jams and end the week right!

Hey, it's Erin. Rachel wanted me to post this jam on her behalf. Work work work work work.

I know next to nothing about this band, but I've spent about 90% of the time since I first heard this song with it stuck in my head. I appreciate how it manages to be both jauntily cheerful and melancholy at the same time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stuck in the middle of a silly little riddle

It was announced today that the Program for Cooperative Cataloging has established a Task Group on Identities Management in NACO. The task group is made up of a lot of very smart people who will, I'm certain, come to very smart conclusions about identities management and the Name Authority Cooperative Program.

The work of the task group is informed by a white paper written by the Program for Cooperative Cataloging Advisory Committee on Initiatives. This paper, titled Name authorities in transition: implications for the PCC, was published in June 2014 and considers what role the Program for Cooperative Cataloging should play in the creation and management of authorities data. The white paper made four recommendations:

1. Develop guidelines for the use of VIAF vocabularies to authorize name entities
2. Develop a process for evaluating, endorsing, and providing guidance for the use of name vocabularies beyond VIAF
3. Significantly expand the ranks of those who can create identifiers/contribute authority data
4. Develop a testbed infrastructure to evaluate the intricacies of statement­based identity management

I reread this white paper today and recommendation #3 stood out to me as something I wanted to think about a little bit more. Before we proceed, I should say that while I am a NACO-trained cataloger, my understanding of authority data is hazy at best.

The text of this recommendation acknowledges the fact that there has been a relative lack of engagement in the metadata creation community. I went to the NACO site and counted the number of participating libraries--185. The number seems both very low and very high to me. One of the barriers to participation has been the quota of member contributions. The program requires that libraries contribute between 100 and 200 authority records depending on size and, let's be honest, many libraries do not do enough authority work on their own to meet that quota. The program established NACO funnels in order to bring together libraries who may not on their own generate enough authority work to meet the quotas. These funnels are arranged in a variety of ways including geography, subject matter, and language. That has helped to increase participation somewhat, but there are still wide swaths of the metadata community who aren't participating in the program.

The text of this recommendation also acknowledges that the emphasis of traditional authority work on the proper construction of headings is philosophically incompatible with the linked data environment where the emphasis is on establishing identifiers for named entities. Basically, it seems like traditional authority record creation is running parallel to existing identifier-creation services like ISNI and ORCID. And in many cases, identifier-creation services allow people get to be in control of managing their own identities.

The authors of the white paper conclude recommendation #3 by offering two solutions for expanding the ranks of people creating authority data. One is to have two separate encoding levels for authority records, one for full-level records and one created using a NACO-lite template. The second is to have a second authority file running parallel to the Library of Congress Name Authority File where non-NACO members can contribute headings. Both of these solutions address the fact that libraries are hesitant to devote the resources to doing the work to become NACO members, but neither seems ideal.I guess if I had to choose, I'd got with the former solution where libraries create authorities using a NACO-lite template. CONSER, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging's serials cataloging program, already follows this model. When a CONSER library finds an unauthenticated serial record in Ye Olde Bibliographic Utility, that library upgrades the record.

For whatever you can say about the utility (or futility, I suppose) of metadata creation, it seems clear that we're standing at a critical point in its history. As more libraries choose to devote less resources to the creation of metadata to describe their resources, it seems increasingly likely that library administrators will also think critically about the value of belonging to the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. While participation in PCC programs is incredibly important, it's also costly in terms of both financial and personnel resources. In this do more with less world, it seems likely that the Program for Cooperative Cataloging will need to demonstrate its value beyond a standardized and orderly bibliographic and authority files. Especially when our ways of constructing bibliographic and authority records are increasingly siloed and not at all interoperable with the open web. Since many top-tier libraries are Program for Cooperative Cataloging members, it seems to me that many of the right people are in the room to have a frank and productive conversation about what the metadata creation community can do to move itself forward into the 21st Century. I think that the Task Group on Identities Management in NACO is a good first step in that direction and it will definitely be interesting to see what conclusions this groups comes to.

Stay positive,

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Jams! (4/1/2016)


Did you know I got a puppy? If not you obviously don't follow me on twitter so I have no idea how you got to the blog. If you enjoy pictures of puppies, you can find some on my twitter. Puppy.

Anyhow I am back from my brief blog sabbatical. I won't say that I'm rested, but I am refreshed in the blogging sense if not in some other ways.  Today I want to share with you a jam that I learned of on Oscar night when I watched the special for Flint.  That reminds me, be very thankful for your clean water and do something to help other people have clean water.

There are whole realms of music that I have nobody to introduce me to, like R&B. So how was I to know about this? Why didn't you tell me after you watched Step Up 3D? Why? All better now, tho.

Welcome back, Rachel!

Last week I went to see Lucius and it was amazing. I feel like time is divided into Before I Saw Lucius and After I Saw Lucius. If you have the chance to see them, you  probably  definitely should. I'd heard their newest record before the show, so I had some idea of what to expect. But they surprised me in the best way possible.

This is the official video for the first single off the newest Lucius album. I am not sorry for the fact that you will have it in your head all day.