End of Semester Reflection

In the first four months of graduate school, I have come to realize how vast the world of librarianship is.  There are intersecting concerns beyond the boundaries of academic, public, and school librarianship that resonate deeply with my interests. We first started our learning journey by looking at how information is defined. Was information to be thought of as more than textual documentation? Could, as Otlet suggested, objects become information if they contained “traces of human activity” (Buckland, 1997)? Could information as Briet believed, be “any physical or symbolic sign” that “represent[s], reconstruct[s], or demonstrate[s] a physical or conceptual phenomenon”? As the human record expanded, so did the systems through which humanity classifies information.  In advance of modern systems of classification, there was Otlet & La Fontaine’s Mundaneum with its universal decimal classification.  With Robert Goldschmidt, Paul Otlet went on to invent “the standardized microfiche to generate documentation” through the reproduction of “books or periodicals and newspapers.” (History, 2019)”. The microfiche was one of the early attempts at the preservation of documents in a compact formula, in advance of more digital objects like the floppy disk, cd, and external hard drives. Themes such as organization and the preservation of information, though of interest since the renaissance (Blair, 2003), have only grown in importance as the amount of information that humans received on a day to day basis increases. Otlet himself had proposed the invention of the memex, an alternative computer-like object that would allow users to view information (objects, documents, audio) from different sources and reproduce them (Bush, 1945). Since then, librarians have created many systems of classification and sorting information: Dewey decimal classification, library of congress subject heading, incorporation of tagging, OCLCs, and more. One of my learning journal’s main explorations has been looking at how information is organized and who decides how information is organized. Similarly, I’ve been concerned with preservation issues and who decides whose voices get preserved as well as how the information gets preserved. One problem in the preservation field is the lack of infrastructure to support cultural heritage projects. Relying on grant funding and other fluctuating funding sources can come at a price that, prior to taking this course, I hadn’t considered. Cultural heritage projects that are generated and supported by non-community members can suffer from a lack of continued diligence and perseverance necessary for the project’s continued success (Strathman, 2019).  Admittingly, even projects lead by community members are impacted by funding and technological concerns (Barone et al., 2015). Examples of when digital preservation fails its users such as the loss of Kwetu due to lack of continuous funding and technological issues despite the database’s backers and unique resources (Barone et al., 2015) and the IRKMNA aboriginal project, which never went live on the web (Strathman, 2019). Houghton (2016) confesses that it is impossible to digitally preserve all human artifacts, which has left me questioning who decides what will be persevered? I was able to find that the NASIG (North American Serials Interest Group, Inc.) has established a committee, the Digital Preservation Task Force, responsible for addressing this question. Thus far, they’ve created a 101 Guide to Digital Preservation to help librarians decide what to save and what to cull. The digital preservation task force has also written guides for understanding the Keepers registry (Guide to Keepers, 2019). The keepers’ registry works as a sort of stability evaluator for digital information by looking at how many copies of any given journal exist in the wider web with the belief that the more copies of an e-journal, the less likely the journal is to disappear. One of the downsides to this line of thinking is that it only examines one type of digital information, the e-journal. Part of the reason that the stability of digital information is so difficult to assess “weigh[s] heavily on how much faith preservation can place in third-party digitized content” (Teper, 221). Since my initial learning journal, I’ve only increased my questioning of this for-profit model. How are users being impacted when digital information is being stored, imputed, and access restricted by third-party cooperate groups? Can these third-party groups be trusted with community materials and will these groups eventually leverage access to this information as justification for astronomical licensing fees? On the other hand, do open access models have the bandwidth in funding and manpower to not only initialize the digitizing of materials but storing and maintaining them online? How can we find a balance between commercial and open information systems? I’ve explored several commercially-run databases and information organization tools throughout this semester, including Overdrive, Hoopla, GoodReads, LibraryThing, OCLC’s WorldCat Identity. While many of these are available for free to users that register, they are run by companies who are making a profit through advertisements and user data. Whose best interest do these products serve? Is GoodReads, who was bought out by Amazon in 2013 (Amazon Buys, 2013), aiming to have its users buy their books through Amazon? What of user data? Already, we know that LibraryThing pulls from its users’ tags to make a commercially available tag package to supplement existing OCLCs under the name LibraryThing for Libraries (DeZelar-Tiedman, 2011). If the outcome of these products function as capitalistic ventures, how can we know that they are built to serve our users? If the information we receive is filtered through proprietary algorithms, then how can we understand what information we aren’t receiving? Who has created these algorithms, and who is their imagined user? In order to have an effective end product, we have to consider our user group. By week 4, we had already been given a few considerations: to make sure that our users know the resources that exist at the library (Spencer, 2019), to have physical space for users to occupy (Barbakoff, 2017), and to have a collection that is useful to our users rather than just to cater to librarians (Dempsey, 2016). The user should be considered at every level of the library, even in the metadata of each item. The metadata entered by catalogers and used by librarians is not always intuitive to users (Nesset, 2016 & Klenczon, 2014) and, in certain cases, it is even offensive (Adler et al., 2017 & Howard et al., 2018). Information retrieval is impacted by the metadata that is used. In Bate’s (2011) examination of library OPACs, information retrieval for queer texts was not intuitive. For maximal results, users would have to search for plural nouns (e.g., lesbians or gays) instead of singular nouns (e.g., lesbian or gay). Though language is constantly in flux, and thus is hard to balance standardization needs (Gross et al., 2015) with contemporary language, there has to be a way to improve access conditions for folks who don’t reflect the average librarian (white, English language native speaker, cisgender female, straight, and neurotypical). Users do not benefit when the landscape of librarianship doesn’t reflect them. Relational database design (Harrington, 2016), for example, mirrors the database creator; the way the designer will create entity to entity interactions is a product of their cultural/lived experience and may not reflect the users’ experiences. If only one experience and way of moving through the world is considered, then all the tools that users will be using to navigate the library reflect that lived experience will contain the same biases, and may create access barriers. Moreover, users who share that same lived experience will not have occasion to question their beliefs, which can lead to insular thinking and continue to feed behavior such as the appropriative consumption of native iconography (Riley & Carpenter, 2016). So, what should we, as librarians, strive towards? One tactic has been to incorporate user-generated tags into pre-existing library metadata, most commonly used in catalog entries (Rafferty, 2018). I spent a few learning journals looking into the use of tags across platforms (Instagram, GoodReads, LibraryThing). My interest in tagging is two-fold.  Most importantly, I believe that own-voice community members need to be involved in each step of the library processes. Regardless of intent, I believe that it is impossible for a singular person (or committee) to account for all the needs of the communities they serve without continued communication. Especially when one accounts for the homogenous makeup of the wider librarian community.  There is also a potential for the lack of long-term commitment when involving non-community members in collections that are sacred to the community (Strathman, 2019), which could cause lasting harm to the community, especially if materials are lost and impact an already tenuous trust. Moreover, non-own voices community members may not consider who the materials are intended for and may distribute the information (Christen, 2015) in ways that disrespect the community. Involving community members who are interested in library matters may also bring new voices into the library. Secondly, prior to graduate school, I have been active in the bookish social media scene and had found many books using tags. While tagging falls short with its inclusion of personal tags (Hedden, 2016), spelling errors, and inaccuracies (Gross & Joudrey, 2015), tagging does tend to use more user-friendly terms and more contemporary terms. My examination of user-tags across GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Instagram platforms reflected these pros and cons. In the second half of the semester, I also investigated other databases that use linked data, such as WorldCat’s Identity Network (WorldCat Identites, 2019), to better understand FRBR principles (Tillett, 2003). During the spring 2020 semester, I will be taking the metadata class. I am hoping that this will give me a more practical understanding of metadata and the ways that metadata operates and impacts information retrieval. It is my hope that with the metadata course coupled with the naming and power course, I will have more information in my toolbox to think of actionable ways of working toward change. Ultimately, I am more for community-driven and designed databases. Instead of creating these systems ourselves and potentially embedding them with our pre-existing biases, as well as potentially neglecting to provide community members with the tools and information to manage the databases themselves thereby leading to the loss of sacred information (Strathman, 2019), we should support the creation of community-created and community-managed databases.  This belief is what led to my last journal entry, where I questioned: “what are tactics that librarians can use to support and promote new voices in librarianship without tokenizing people?” I don’t think this is a question that will ever have a singular answer. Rather, I believe the answer will vary from person to person. It is an insult to assume that there is any one way of reacting to a situation and that members of a given group should be treated as a monolith. Librarians, especially those of us who have a significant amount of privilege, should learn to ask our colleagues what they need and truly listen instead of trying to interject with what we think on a given topic. That said, I’m learning. It has been a wonderful first class, and I know I will continue to explore these themes and reflect on what I have learned as I continue in my studies.


Amazon Buys Goodreads. (2013). In Publishers’ Weekly. Retrieved from: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/56575-amazon-buys-goodreads.html

Barbakoff, A. (2017). Balancing connections and collections. In Library Journal. September 15.Retrieved from: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=balancing-connections-collections-library-design.

Bates, J.; Rowley, J. (2011). Social reproduction and exclusion in subject indexing: A comparison of public library OPACs and LibraryThing folksonomy. Journal of Documentation 67(3): 431-448. Retrieved from: https://www-emerald-com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/insight/content/doi/10.1108/00220411111124532/full/html

Blair, A. (2003). Reading strategies for coping with information overload ca. 1550-1700.  Journal of the History of Ideas 64(1): 11-28. Retrieved from: https://www-jstor-org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/stable/3654293?origin=crossref&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Buckland, M. K. (1997). What is a “document”? Journal of the American Society for Information Science 48(9): 804- 809. http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/whatdoc.html

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. In Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from:http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/.

Christen, K. (2015). Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the “s” Matters. Journal of Western Archives. 6(1): 1-19. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://www.kimchristen.com/publications/&httpsredir=1&article=1046&context=westernarchives

DeZelar-Tiedman, C. (2011). Exploring user-contributed metadata’s potential to enhance access to literary works. Library Resources and Technical Services, 55 (4), 221-233. Retrieved from https://www.scopus.com/inward/record.uri?eid=2-s2.0-84860126184&doi=10.5860%2flrts.55n4.221&partnerID=40&md5=8ed263cd72a666e256b92c96be06901b

Dempsey, L. (2016). Library collections in the life of the user: Two directions. LIBER Quarterly 26(4). Retrieved from: https://www.liberquarterly.eu/articles/10.18352/lq.10170/

Guide to Keepers Registry. (2019.) Retrieved from : https://www.nasig.org/site_page.cfm?pk_association_webpage_menu=311&pk_association_webpage=13830

Gross, T.; Taylor, A. G.; Joudrey, D. N. (2015). Still a lot to lose: The role of controlled vocabulary in keyword searching. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 53(1): 1-39. Retrieved from: https://libkey.io/libraries/15/articles/53345370/full-text-file?utm_source=api_274

Hedden, H. (2016). Chapter 1. What are taxonomies? The Accidental Taxonomist. 2nd ed. Medford, NJ: Information Today, 16-32. Retrieved from http://www.library.uiuc.edu/proxy/go.php?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=390140

History. (2019). In Mundaneum. Retrieved from: http://archives.mundaneum.org/en/history.

Howard, S. A.; Knowlton, S. A. (2018). Browsing through bias: The Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings for African American studies and LGBTQIA studies. Library Trends 67(1): 74-88. Retrieved from: https://libkey.io/libraries/15/articles/243650247/full-text-file

Keller, S.R.; Robertson, W.; Steinle K.; Thibault, D.R. (2019). Digital Preservation Task Force Update, The Serials Librarian, 76:1-4, 51-54. Retrieved from: https://www-tandfonline-com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/0361526X.2019.1583545?needAccess=true

Klenczon,W.; Rygiel, P. (2014). Librarian cornered by images, or how to index visual resources. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 52(1): 42-61. Retrieved from: https://libkey.io/libraries/15/articles/48665936/full-text-file

Nesset, V. (2016). A look at classification and indexing practices for elementary school children: who are we really serving? The Indexer 34(2): 63-65. Retrieved from: http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNHr7ESep7M4wtvhOLCmr1GeqK9Sr6y4SbCWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGut1C3rLZNuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=lls&K=117820430

Rafferty, P. (2018). Tagging. Knowledge Organization 45(6): 500-516. Retrieved from: http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNHr7ESep7M4wtvhOLCmr1GeqK9Sr6y4Ta%2BWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGut1C3rLZNuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=lls&K=132395543

Riley, A. & Carpenter, K. (2016). Owning Red: A Theory of Indian (Cultural) Appropriation. Texas Law Review, 94(5), 859-931. Retrieved from: https://texaslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/RileyCarpenter.FinalPDF.pdf

Spencer, K. (2019). Creating a culture of use. In Against the Grain. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/31SEHol  

Strathman, N. (2019). Digitizing the Ancestors: Issues in Indigenous Digital Heritage Projects. International Journal of Communication, 13:3731-3738. Retrieved from: https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/8018/2748

Teper, J. H. (2014). Selection for preservation: a survey of current practices in the field of preservation. Library Resources & Technical Services 58(4): 220-232.­ Retrieved from: http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNHr7ESep7M4wtvhOLCmr1GeqK9Sr624S7OWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGut1C3rLZNuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=a9h&K=99263271

Tillett, B. (2003). What is FRBR? A conceptual model for the bibliographic universe. Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/cds/downloads/FRBR.PDF.

WorldCat Identities. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.oclc.org/research/themes/data-science/identities.html