This study path asks learners to work with an experienced metadata librarian or cataloger in selecting a thesaurus for describing a cultural collection or sub-collection.
This case study provides a concrete example of the gaps that can occur in standard cataloging practices and their impact on information seeking. It explores an instance of using Linked Open Data (LOD) technologies to address representation gaps, uncovering both opportunities and risks when such interlinking relies on standard vocabularies, which typically represent only mainstream narratives.
In November of 2015, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) launched a website with a rare accessibility feature. The website team had committed to making all of the images on the site accessible to the widest possible audience—particularly visitors with vision impairment—through visual description. To do so, the MCA worked with Sina Bahram and his team at Prime Access Consulting to develop a workflow tool, backing service, and API to support a distributed description workflow. The description project, Coyote, is an outstanding illustration of the principles of universal design, which argue that products designed to be useful to one community (in this case, people who are blind or have low vision) are likely to benefit a variety of users, not just those with disabilities. Invented to solve an unresolved need at the MCA and within the community, Coyote has in a short time expanded well beyond its original scope, bringing together a team of expert and poetic describers, passionate accessibility advocates, and open source developers and bringing needed attention to the ways that visual description might become a useful aspect of museum practice. In addition to discussing the policy, institutional, and technical implications around large-scale image description, (including both short and long descriptions), we also plan on presenting the latest enhancements, made possible by a museum technology grant from the Knight Foundation, to Coyote. These include a greatly enhanced representational model that can track visual descriptions of real world objects in addition to images, integration of concepts from the semantic web to facilitate rich search, the development of an organizational model that is used to offer a centralized Coyote instance to multiple institutions in a cloud-hosted version of the software, and enhancements to the Coyote API to facilitate broader third-party access such as Coyote being used for a treasure-hunt-like game based on visual descriptions.
This Digital Library Federation Cultural Assessment Working Group works to develop tools for the measurement and analysis of cultural biases and assumptions in GLAM (Galleries, Archives, and Museums) institutions. Other projects include a workflow for inclusive curation and metadata practices, and the maintenance of an ongoing annotated bibliography of sources.
This study path exposes students to how descriptive metadata in digital repositories is used to reinforce or disrupt stereotypes about marginalized cultures and communities.
Native Americans create, preserve, and organize knowledge within the context of community, thereby ensuring the inclusion of Native American philosophies. Historically, mainstream cataloging and classification systems have not adequately represented this knowledge. The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology was designed to incorporate an Indigenous perspective into mainstream controlled vocabularies. Using story as pedagogy, this article examines the conceptual foundations, theoretical framework, and application of the Thesaurus to a museum setting.
This article explores cognitively just, reliable subject access to indigenous knowledge through knowledge organization systems (KOSs). Cognitive justice requires that indigenous people be able to access materials in a way that respects their worldview, yet dominant KOSs are based on positivist, Western approaches that are fundamentally incompatible. Alternatives to universal systems include the creation of new KOSs and the adaptation of universal ones. Going forward, emerging web technologies are presented as key to moving away from universalist schemes and toward specialized access.
Clack’s work is foundational in this area, and her published work is some of the earliest to explore inclusivity in metadata. In 1973 the author conducted a seminal research study which concluded that subject analysis for African American studies resources was seriously inadequate and that the area was neglected in research. Twenty years later the author revisits the issues relative to the adequacy of subject analysis for African American studies resources. Specifically, Library of Congress subject headings are examined against the capabilities of online catalogs to retrieve materials relating to this body of literature. The conclusion drawn is that improvements have been made but that problems continue to exist. Prescriptive measures for resolving the remaining problems are offered.
To inform debates about decolonizing museum records, this article maps the history of cataloging at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when material heritage was collected for museums from Indigenous peoples, the knowledge within those communities was often measured against Eurocentric biases that saw Indigenous knowledge as the object of material culture research, not a contribution to it. This article thus argues for a historical approach to understand how standards in object description involve assumptions that have resulted in a lack of Indigenous knowledge in museum records from this time.
Turner, H. (2015). Decolonizing Ethnographic Documentation: A Critical History of the Early Museum Catalogs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53(5–6), 658–676.
This article seeks to raise consciousness within the field of archival studies in order to foster a generative discussion about how descriptive practices might be expanded, approached differently, or completely rethought. It brings together crosscutting theoretical issues and provides practical examples of mediation in order to mobilize these records in support of human rights work. It first problematizes the foundational archival precept of respect des fonds and its sub-principles of original order and provenance. It then analyzes the necessary transformation of institutional policies and standards in order to foster trust and transparency and identifies structural or system wide strategies for ameliorating past abuses.