Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The spotlight is focused, the audience rapt

I am in the quiet space between a couple of writing projects and I'm thinking about the thread that ties the two together.

In the first writing project, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how my lived experience acts as a lens through which I view the material that I catalog. In the early drafts of this project, I tried to argue that catalogers should both identify biases and work to push against them in their work. I even used the phrase "eradicate bias." As I wrote subsequent drafts, however, I became convinced that our job as catalogers shouldn't be to work against bias to create a neutral catalog. As many people smarter than me have said, the catalog is not neutral ground--nor should it be. Instead, I thought more about how catalogers should consider their lived experiences more to identify who they are and what privilege they do (or don't) possess. In much the same way that understanding how I benefit from whiteness changes how I move in the world, understanding how I benefit from whiteness changes how I approach the material I catalog.

The second writing project is going to turn my attention toward the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. I'm interested in thinking about the six frames can serve as a lens through which catalogers can view what our cataloging priorities should be. I'm interesting in thinking about how cataloging work would change if we brought our practises into closer alignment with what librarians doing information literacy instruction are teaching students. My gut reaction at the outset of this work is that bringing our practises into closer alignment means that we will be less able to reuse records from Ye Olde Bibliographic Utility without making at least some degree of local changes. At the outset of this project, I feel like bringing cataloging practises and information literacy instruction practises into closer alignment will result in more work for catalogers rather than less.

I think the places where these two projects (and the thinking behind them) come together is that we need to spend a lot more time considering our local communities and the values that our local libraries embrace when creating and adapting records for use in our local catalogs. We must consider how we will change every aspect of how we work when we decide that our libraries should be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-ableist, and anti-classist spaces. We cannot create inclusive physical library spaces without also creating inclusive digital spaces--and that includes are our library catalogs. We cannot address signage without also addressing metadata creation content standards. We cannot address loan policies without also addressing controlled vocabulary.

I don't resent people for thinking first about how to create more inclusive physical spaces since changing physical spaces has a visible return on investment for users. But not every person who uses the library does so by coming into our physical spaces. For some of our user groups, the library's digital presence is the only way they will interact with the library, so we also need to put some thought into how we will reflect in those spaces the values we profess in our physical spaces. This might mean changing our website's design or creating a local thesaurus of terms that reflect our values more than any of the existing thesauri. But whatever it means, we have to do it.

Making the changes in local practise that bring information literacy practise and cataloging practise into closer alignment will be neither easy nor cheap. And creating inclusive digital spaces will require both financial resources and staff time. We'll have to decide what we're willing to give up to take on this new work and we'll have to have administrative support to move forward. But if creating inclusive physical spaces is a priority for us, we have to think about how our digital spaces will change too.

Stay positive,

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