Fight the system!(?): Inclusivity, discoverability, and straying from authorities in the library catalog


December 16th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, Metadata | Author: | no responses |


Libraries are more complex than many realize. This is why discussions about inclusivity, discoverability, and critical librarianship are so important for the realm of the library catalog. Rather than build upon the backbone of antiquated systems already in place, we need to move toward a more agile system. Our resource description methodologies and tools must be able to respond more efficiently with social change that they are in the current state of things.

User experience

Let’s focus on a library catalog’s user experience impact in two primary areas: discoverability and inclusivity (both of which overlap in many ways).

Whether from aging authority files, the accumulation of poor and/or inconsistent key terms, or incomplete records, the negative impact on discoverability rises as metadata quality declines. Ross mentions that a list of 180 “outdated and offensive” terms has been compiled through the African American Subject Funnel Project in an effort to improve inclusivity in the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (American Libraries, 2021). That is a long list that would not only improve inclusivity, but also impact discoverability. Inclusive language ensures the catalog accurately and fairly represents the diversity of a library’s user base without “othering” them in ways that would exclude or discourage them from library services. Additionally, proper term use is crucial for discoverability, and changes to make language more inclusive will modernize vocabulary in ways that will improve discoverability.  

Description of resources

Hobart shares how Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings lacks terms that would make it discoverable via a library catalog when searching for race or racism; the topic has to be inferred from the description, which such a catalog search cannot generally do (American Libraries, 2021). The description of resources does more than just explain what the information object is once discovered — it ensures that it can be found based on need.

Authority control & access points

So why not just fix it and be done with it? Well, with this talk of updating catalogs, it is important to recognize that authority files can tie the cataloger’s hands in ways that stunt both discoverability and inclusivity. Yet, authority files are very important for access points. The general effectiveness of a catalog’s search capabilities depends on them. 

A classic example of the importance of authority control is how a user can search for either George Sand or the author’s real name of Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin and still find works by the author — which is possible in catalogs that follow authority files, such as the Library of Congress Name Authority File (Library of Congress, 2005). Granted, names are quite straightforward when it comes to access points. The trouble creeps in when we start looking at authority control that requires interpretation, such as subject headings. 

Deviation from authority control can have a big impact, especially when catalogs are using authority control that has been in use since the 19th century such as LCSH, which is interconnected in ways that make changes quite laborious (American Libraries, 2021). 

One commonly cited issue and ‘resolution’ is the change of LCSH Illegal Aliens to Noncitizens / Undocumented Immigration. This change to the authority file took over two years, after being first denied, and LC still did not accept the proposal of Undocumented Immigrants that ALA’s governing body was urging for (Freedman, 2016). It is still a good change, but makes LCSH feel sluggish and inflexible. 

Question

My question then becomes: Should catalogers continue to strictly adhere to LCSH even though change has been very slow to take root? 

Granted, this is not an all or nothing question. Consider high-level contributors to WorldCat such as Jenna Freedman who has over 4,000 zine entries that might be copy cataloged by others (2016, Freedman). Her approach is to use MARC 653 fields to incorporate custom, uncontrolled index terms. Otherwise, LCSH will not cover the topic of her zines well enough. The negative to this? As she points out, if LCSH is updated it will be updated on her zines by others through typical workflows. Her 653 entries will be there forever unless manually discovered and fixed. It is likely that such considerations are why authorities such as OCLC instruct catalogers to prefer the use of subject headings from established subject schemes (OCLC, 2020).  

In another example, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library Statement on Cataloging acknowledges that long-standing professional biases and issues stemming from national and internationally standardized metadata exist, and that they seek suggestions and will fix problems (Schneider et al., 2020). This method of crowdsourcing fixes for inclusive language issues and other errors, while making a concerted effort internally, could be quite effective. Does deviating from LCSH cause more harm than good? 

A non-answer

In my opinion, it is time to seriously think about moving toward a new way of doing things. In one example, advances toward a new system such as BIBFRAME could remove the onerous authority file change / MARC record update that make some hesitant to update terms. BIBFRAME’s use of unique identifiers that will never change, even if the subject heading, etc. that it relates to does, can make for a nimble cataloging system (Librarianship Studies & Information Technology, 2021). Removing the MARC update cascade effect that results from authority control changes is long overdue. Not saying that this is the only thing that makes changes to authority files so sluggish, but I think it could help.

I see this as an important step for the future of libraries. Perhaps not “the answer,” but certainly a step in the right direction.

References

American Libraries. (2021, November 1). Decolonizing the catalog: RUSA webinar explores avenues for antiracist description. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2021/11/01/decolonizing-the-catalog/

Freedman, J. (2016, March 27). Can I quit you, LC? Lower east side librarian. https://lowereastsidelibrarian.info/lcsh/quityou

Librarianship Studies & Information Technology. (2021, April 23). BIBFRAME (bibliographic framework). https://www.librarianshipstudies.com/2017/12/bibframe.html

Library of Congress. (2005, October 28). What is a MARC record, and why is it important? https://www.loc.gov/marc/uma/pt1-7.html#pt5

OCLC. (2020, August 29). 6xx fields. OCLC Support and Training. https://www.oclc.org/bibformats/en/6xx.html   

Schneider, N. M., Fenning Marschall, R., Sanchez-Nunez, A., & Riley, M. (2020, June 1). William Andrews Clark Memorial Library statement on cataloging. UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. https://clarklibrary.ucla.edu/research/statementoncataloging/ 

Fact Sheet: Dublin Core Metadata Initiative


November 28th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, Metadata | Author: | no responses |


This is a fact sheet that explores the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI). DCMI’s work is in wide use on a global scale. It is simple to employ and easy to interpret, yet flexible and fully capable of becoming part of metadata application profiles that meet a wide range of use cases.

Budding Metadata Interest


November 13th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, MLIS | Author: | no responses |


I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my first full-on metadata course has really piqued my interest. The focuse has been on developing a basic understanding of various core schemas (such as DCMI and VRA Core 4.0) and how to develop schemas and application profiles to address specific needs. It has been deeply fascinating to see how it all works behind the scenes. It is powerful, yet unseen stuff!

Part of the class has involved making “fact sheets” for various popular schemas. I plan to share those over the course of the next month or so. I am not sure that it could be a viable professional direction for me. Regardless of that, I have plans to keep learning and working with it. All sorts of interesting projects have come to mind!

MLIS midpoint: One year down, one to go!


August 20th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, MLIS | Author: | no responses |


Here I am, soon to enter my fourth semester in Kent State’s MLIS program. If all goes as planned, this is my half-way point to finishing my degree.

It has been excellent so far, and I am looking forward to what is to come. I have to admit that working 40 hours a week at a library and doing 2-3 graduate level courses about library-related work can push me to the edge of burnout on occasion, but in the end I feel I am in the right place.

I took three classes over summer session: one on data fundamentals, one about internet technologies in which I got to work with some new web development concepts (to my pleasant surprise!), and a survey-type course on information institutions and professions (the last of my MLIS required core courses).

I picked up a lot from all of these courses. In particular, my favorite was learning how to work with RESTful APIs on a basic level and incorporate JSON into dynamic web builds. I have a lot of background in web design, and a little in web development, so I wasn’t sure if I would pick up anything new. However, the course was excellent. It has even given me an idea for a new web project I would like to work on when I have time. I might share more on that soon.

Moving forward I plan to dive deeper into metadata, information organization, and hopefully take a special topics class on linked data if Kent offers it this coming spring semester.

Anyway, I think of this blog often and always look forward to tossing an update in when I can. Both work and my studies have been quite hectic lately!

Strategic Planning


June 2nd, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship | Author: | no responses |


From approximately April through December of 2020, I had the pleasure of serving as co-chair for my library’s Strategic Planning Coordinating Committee. It was an amazing experience. A lot of work and exhausting at times, yet energizing in so many ways. Our sub committees consisted of one that focused on stakeholder research, one on environmental scanning, and a third that was tasked with using data unearthed by the other two committees to collaboratively write a draft of the strategic plan with library staff.

This was an entirely staff-led process. For me, the energizing aspect of this approach came from the genuine passion that everyone brought to the table. The care and hard work everyone put into the process was inspiring! The end product feels authentic, and I am confident it will provide real guidance over the next three years.

My co-chair and I learned so much during the process, and are excited to have opportunities to share share and discuss with others that might be considering a similar endeavor. You can read a news article about the strategic plan here University Libraries Announces Strategic Plan. The public facing page that contains the strategic plan is available here University Libraries Strategic Plan 2021-2023.

So far we have shared a poster presentation at ACRL 2021 (see below). We also have some other plans to expand upon our knowledge from the process and engage with others in the broader library community — but more on that later!

Semester two of MLIS finished


May 5th, 2021 | Topic: MLIS | Author: | no responses |


My second semester in Kent State University’s MLIS program just wrapped up. This semester my focus was on People in the Information Ecology and Research and Assessment in Library and Information Science.

People in the Information Ecology was a very interest journey. The whole semester amounted to three individual literature reviews on a chosen user group, ending in a larger synthesis of these three into a larger holistic literature review. My focus was on the international student in the United State of America. It was a considerable amount of work, but well worth it. I learned so much about information seeking behavior and information needs for this user group. I have plans to share some of what I learned in this blog soon.

My Research and Assessment in Library and Information Science course was a good opportunity for me to fine tune and expand my understanding of research methods and techniques. In my Communication Science undergraduate program at Ohio University, the capstone was a fairly significant semester-long research project, which itself had a preparatory prerequisite research techniques course. Thanks to this, i already had a pretty solid foundation on some of these topics. Even so, it was a very good exercise and really did expand my knowledge quite a bit in this area. The course culminated in a research proposal. I took the opportunity to explore a research project that I might try to pick up someday that aims to explore if there is a connection between pre-college public library patronage and lower academic library anxiety among first-year college students. More on that soon as well.

It was a good semester and I am looking forward to the next! I hope to have time to engage a little more with my blog here over summer. I am taking classes but not quite as heavy of a course load as usual.

First semester down, the second on the horizon


January 18th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, MLIS | Author: | no responses |


I am on the cusp of my second semester of Kent State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program. I did not blog much during my first semester, in part because I still had work to do on this site and in part due to an uncertainty of whether I would be adding “journal-like” entries here.

Well, just this past week I finalized some important aspects of this blog theme (support for comments and some design fixes) and I have also decided that informal posts here might benefit me better understand my experience — so here I go.

Last semester consisted of two courses: The Information Landscape and Information Organization.

The Information Landscape was essentially a survey course of information organizations. It was a good chance to learn more details about pathways in this field. There were plenty of moments where it felt like it bordered on busy work, but it really came down to getting out of it what you put in. Above all, the course was a great chance to meet other students and network a little. There were two separate group projects running at the same time, which necessitated a lot of group meetings and communication beyond Blackboard and email.

Information Organization was an outstanding course. Starting off there was a heavy focus on information organization theory. About midway through we began to learn about various metadata schemas and knowledge organization systems. This course really opened my eyes to how amazing metadata science can be, so much so that I have considered taking more metadata courses when the opportunity arises.

This coming semester I will take Research and Assessment in Library Information Science and People in the Information Ecology. Looking forward to getting back at it and one step closer to the MLIS! My plan is to blog a little more regularly now that the site is mostly wrapped up.

My library journey in brief: An application essay


November 27th, 2020 | Topic: Librarianship | Author: | no responses |


After some consideration, I decided to share my application essay for Kent State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program. Their prompts were thought provoking, and the end product serves well to capture how important libraries have become in my life.


My life journey is intricately woven into the library world. As a young-adult patron, my local public library was a regular haunt of mine. Later, thanks to a glimpse behind-the-scenes at a part-time job, this appreciation became a passion for librarianship. This application to the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at Kent State University is the culmination of this passion. The impact libraries have on critical issues in their communities is dear to me, I aspire to develop an understanding of library work beyond first-hand experiences, and my time spent in online learning environments and broad work experience could bring an engaging perspective to the classroom. I know deep down this the right path for me.

(more…)

Why libraries?


September 19th, 2020 | Topic: Librarianship | Author: | no responses |


Boxing books for the Lending Library, Mitchell Building, State Library of New South Wales, 29.10.1943, Pix Magazine, part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive, ON 388 / Box 006 / Item 091 archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110591906

Part of my passion for librarianship is in the core principle of freely available information for all, indiscriminately and without censorship. I cannot put it in better words than the analogy found in the following quote:


“…when properly diffused (manure) enriches and fertilizes; but, if suffered to lie in idle heaps, it breeds stink and vermin. It is the same with […] knowledge.”

Poor Man’s Guardian, 1834

An educated society is a resilient society. With the power of information, communities can become better critical thinkers and therefore better to one another, better to their environment, and live fuller lives.