Response #8: Kyle Olmon

Great to get an introduction to RadCat and its major proponents like Sanford Berman in ‘Radical Cataloging’.  I also appreciated the dialogue from the same book between Webster and Doyle as they discussed the endless marginalization of Native American resources in the current dominant classification systems. While these two chapters expose a biased system and rage against the library machine, I found more to love in the ‘Cutter & Paste’ article by Freedman and Kauffman. Sticking true to the DIY aesthetic, they provide concrete examples for  catalogers to follow and build upon when dealing with zines or other unorthodox library materials. In stark contrast is Jonathan Furner’s “Dewey deracialized” article where I got lost in the endless discussion of semantics, perspectives and definitions related to CRT. My favorite takeaway from his paper was his examination of US public libraries from before and after WWII. It looked like a very stark world through these lens:

The emphasis was on the librarian’s responsibility to select the “best” books for an elite minority of middle-class scholars, while providing the masses with a harmless source of recreation and entertainment that would keep them too busy to harbor ideas of insurrection, and inculcating in new immigrants the morals of the American who is “sober, righteous, conservative, patient, devout” [21, p. 2510].

And yet I feel that after 1945, the “ideal of freedom of access to all recorded knowledge for all people” is a worthy goal, but still currently beyond our collective reach as noted by the cats preaching RadCat the world over.


Valerie Ramshur: Weekly response week 7

Stick it to “THE MAN “ week.

This week the readings confronted the issues of race, gender and social justice that lie in cataloguing and information Organization structures. But also how do we teach students and the public to dig deeper to engage in a more meaningful way in the information they seek. Teachers and students learning together to break down the “blind to the structures of racism built into the library catalog” (Drabinski)

Since Both the DDC and LC were created by white me of a ‘certain standing ‘ at a time when their voice, vision and money was the most powerful resource, this is the structure that is in place. Necessary and problematic are the words that kept jumping out at me this week- in regards to classification. The cut and dry language of classification the “same ness “ they produce create repeat problems in this area.

Can it be changed? Is there room for more detailed and in depth classification of equal weight? How do we face the of racism and ignorance present in our cataloguing systems? – radical cataloging.

Teaching the Radical Catalog by EmilyDrabinski was interesting this quote summed up a lot for me.

“The LC list can only `satisfy’ parochial, jingoistic Europeans and North Americans, white-hued, at least nominally Christian (and preferably Protestant) in faith, comfortably situated in the middle- and higher-income brackets, largely domiciled in suburbia, fundamentally loyal to the Established Order, and heavily imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of Western civilization.”

Acknowledgement and Disenfranchisement is; Naming and Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge’s in Public Institutions: by Ann M. Doyle,

The article was interesting – focusing on the experience at with the Musqueam people and First Nations library- Indigenous research methodologies and ethics. How does a culture that holds the power and intellectual property of a culture proceed in a kind of intellectual “repatriation”? How can students contribute and receive a more holistic education within their own community. By Librarian, information specialist and student working collaboratively and with a sense of interconnectedness.

I was unable to open this article -Furner, J. (2007). Dewey de-racialized: A critical race-theoretic perspective. Knowledge Organization, 34: p. 144-168.

Weekly response, Erin E. McCabe

There’s a certain severity to the judgment of “banking education” that appeals to me in the Drabinksi article, “Teaching the Radical Catalog”. While librarians and school teachers answer to some different authorities with different goals, critical assessment of a catalog’s anthropological biases expands beyond that explanation into radical learning. Education reform is such a hot button issue (especially nowadays in my hometown, Chicago – with teachers’ strikes and low income district schools closing) that it struck me as almost snuck in here under the guise of a shift in cataloging as a more or less tidy fix.

It certainly seems like the only valid option on the table. A change of heading classifications is both insufficient and completely inefficient, given the fluid nature of social evolution. Then, removing a hierarchy of categories is simply not a possibility, it runs against the very definition of classification.

I love any support for critical pedagogy but the more pessimistic side of me thinks it might actually be easier to change the headings. Afterall, we’re talking a shift in not just how patrons use the library, but in how students, or people, use their brains. It’s pretty cool that librarians can be find themselves in a pretty uniquely flexible position to start this kind of thing.

Weekly Response 7 — Diana Rosenthal

I really enjoyed this week’s readings and the concepts behind radical cataloging. Though not a library setting, the artifact catalog in the Anthropology Division at the American Museum of Natural History has undergone changes to incorporate the languages of native peoples in order to facilitate keyword searches. This is just one step in renovating the existing catalog and relates to Drabinski’s article. Drabinski points out that the language problem within the Library of Congress system is not the only issue at hand; the “structural limitations of library classifications” also need to be addressed.

It seems like a tall order to revamp classification on a structural level, and I’m wondering if addressing the language of subject headings and thesauri may be the best first step. I wonder if the Library of Congress system could start to undergo frequent updates, similar to how Merriam-Webster (and other dictionaries) releases new editions with changes to word usage and definitions based on the evolution of language. Though it’s a Band-Aid on a larger issue, it does seem better than acknowledging the prejudices within the cataloging system and not doing anything to remove them.

We’ve also talked about this before, but the subjectivity involved in cataloging is an inherent problem that will continue to persist. Drabinski points out “it is the nature of subject analysis to be subjective.” So what is the answer to the issues highlighted by Sanford Berman and others? It seems that the best option is teaching librarians to think critically and to admit the shortcomings of the system in order to best serve all patrons.

I also liked Freedman and Kauffman’s chapter on DIY zine cataloging. I’m not too familiar with zines, and I found this to be a very approachable guide to cataloging them–and doing the medium justice. It also made me think about how useful it would be if there were similar guides for other special materials. I think it would be great if there was a cataloging guide for special items written by people who care about those items a lot, in order to highlight the most important fields and the different “issues” that will be encountered by catalogers, like the use of pen names or first names in the case of zine authors.

Weekly Response Alana Mohamed

I was especially excited to read Furner’s article on Dewey because I have recently been thinking of race and Dewey. I can’t remember if I wrote about this before but I was looking at Dewey subjects recently and realized that for European and American literature there were subdivisions such as “fiction” “non-fiction” “drama” “poetry”–vast categories that hinted at the variations and nuance within these regional literatures. However non-Western countries were hardly afforded the same privilege. Categorization was mostly based on location (“Africa”->”South African literature”) which was surprising to me. I know that there is a lot of bureaucracy surrounding change in classification but I never knew how slow things were to change!

I was particularly interested in Furner’s discussions of self identification and mixed race people, something I had never thought of before.  I began to think about user-based tagging and classification. If we gave mixed race people to define information on their terms what would our classification system look like? I truly have little idea and know that there are a broad spectrum of people who consider themselves mixed race and a broad number of varying issues they face. I did think it was cool to imagine a new language in categorizing based on a new perspective. It makes me wonder about the diversity of catalogers and librarians. Would it make a difference if we sought out marginalized people to navigate and classify their own histories?

Anna Murphy, Response to Berman

I admire Berman’s ethical motivations, but I think the examples provided in this article aren’t as compelling as the progressive philosophy behind them. While librarians tend to be pretty liberal, it seems libraries are not. And perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe it’s up to libraries to be torch bearers for progressive movements. Berman’s dissatisfaction with this disconnect is warranted—it seems so silly to even see the word “transsexual” yet I imagine the vast majority of the published texts on the subject have yet to embrace preferred nomenclature. And because of this, the subject heading should change once the texts themselves change. In fact, it may even be useful to keep the outdated subject headings if researchers are interested in how certain subjects used to be written about. It could even be an educational moment, allowing young researchers to understand how opinions and terminologies have changed. This is an important and valuable lesson that may be lost with consistently up-to-date, politically correct subject headings. I think it’s up to librarians to be aware of all of these subject headings and direct their users to the right place, no matter what that place is called, and use any disparities as teachable moments.

Response Post – Scarlett Taylor

The major questions raised by this week’s readings is, of course, “how?”. Drabinski’s “Teaching the Radical Catalog” was so on point with how we need to think about our work critically and how it can actively or passively enforce, or deconstruct a kyriarchal status quo. The excuse of an established vocabulary in our classification of works and organization of systems is insufficient in making sure that privileged groups are not overrepresented (more than they already are in the history of collections). I really enjoyed the anecdote about how in LC black women are negro/African-American/black women while white women are just women, as this is an attitude toward the invisibility (by virtue of being dominant and default) of privilege that permeates all of our society. We think of libraries, particularly due to the whole public library model, as places of equalization, above the crass biases of general society because they deal only in truth and knowledge, but they are, in fact, highly political.

That said, Doyle’s “Naming and Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledges in Public Institutions: Intersections of Landscapes and Experience” raised the issue of entirely new schemes. In this case, it was one that was culturally sensitive to the population that her particular library was serving. I am very interested in how we can do this kind of classification, that from how she phrased it seemed, to an extent, stand-alone, within a larger scope. How can Doyle’s library’s classifications be worked into a global system? How can this kind of specific organization, conducted by and for very specific groups, be combined to make one system that makes sense? Is it possible to integrate into Dewey and LC, as it is difficult to see libraries moving away from these to a new system entirely in the near future? Even the people who created these initial classification systems were systemically privileged, so it is patently unjust not to listen to the voices of the people represented by works being classified. But changing hegemonic systems is so difficult. Merely changing racist phrases, as Drabinski cites, certainly shows progress. However, if the entire system is based on a flawed premise (which, admittedly, is getting more into my own personal politics than libraries, as I do think some parts of our current classification systems are worth saving. Classification, unlike society, always has room for more subject headings. And frankly, people are less invested in maintaining power structures in cataloging, I imagine), should we keep it at all? Does this in fact demand a complete systemic overhaul?

Katherine M: Weekly Response Post #2

K.R. Roberto’s description and support of radical cataloguing was practical, there seemed to be little to argue against. Roberto admits to having difficulty defining ‘radcat’ but is quick to state one item he is against – doing away with controlled vocabularies.  His later notes on comically outdated terms used by Library of Congress, such as incandescent light over lightbulb, resonate because there isn’t necessarily political weight attached which would require cautious revision. This is an important discussion for a library student because it questions the authorities we are relying on as sources of innovation and best practice without asking for a truly radical destruction of their foundation. In light of the points listed as traits/behavior of radcats, the term ‘radical’ sounds misleading because the areas in question, which Roberto says are infrequently addressed, seem to be crucial to efficient cataloguing and collection maintenance.

Emily Drabinski’s Teaching the Radical Catalog introduces a more critical classification theory by reflecting on specific hierarchies within LC subject headings, describing “‘first terms’, that masquerade as neutral when they are, in fact, culturally informed and reflective of social power.” The example that we discussed in class was used, which was how ‘women’ (white women), located at the top of a hierarchy, holds power above the narrower terms running below.  These terms inform our approach to learning and research – how we locate information and present it. Cultural and ideological shifts lead to scholarly revisions in print, dictionaries, law, all institutions – why would cataloging be neglected when it seems essential to it’s purpose?

Weekly Post #7: Emily Moyer

I enjoyed the readings this week, particularly Emily Drabinski’s “Teaching the Radical Catalog.” Drabinski states,

“Library classifications use the hegemonic language of the powerful: they reflect, produce, and reproduce hierarchies; they order sameness and difference and prevent the full representation of minority literatures; they arrest the linguistic transformation in emerging fields of knowledge and identity production.”

These are classification systems that can never be completely “fixed” so she proposes that if we cannot change them, we should try to understand the problems, approach the system critically, and actively learn how to navigate the limitations as both teachers and students.

An especially interesting point in Drabinski’s article is the issue of power and the privileging of terms. This is a choice made at some point by a cataloger either consciously or subconsciously that affects who has access to a particular resource. This is an inherent problem with any hierarchically structured system. One term determines subsequent faceting within that term.

I also found Drabinski’s discussion of Berman’s approach interesting. Although Berman’s work has incited change and progress within the cataloging world, he perpetuates the hierarchical classification system by implying there is a “‘right’ language that could be universally understood and applied” when in fact maybe we should accept the limitations of and barriers created by language and focus on being aware they exist. As librarians it is essential that we take ourselves out of positions of power as organizers and providers of information to begin to critically learn and understand the system and all its issues.

Drabinski’s article was well-written, thought-provoking, and compelling all the way through. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Weekly Response Post #7 – Classification systems and schemes, Rachel Skinner-O’Neill

While our previous readings have firmly established the importance of cataloging and the centrality of classification to libraries, almost to the point of instilling a feeling of: if you don’t do it this way, an item will remain undiscovererd/lost forever, this week’s readings felt like a combination of a breath of fresh air and common sense – no wonder radical cataloging is a highlight of our course! Check any public library’s mission statement and you are likely to come up with phrasing along the lines of: we aim to be “a leader in traditional and innovative library services which reflect the diverse and dynamic spirit of the people of Brooklyn” (from Brooklyn Public Library) or to “inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities’ (NYPL). As public librarians a chief responsibility is to serve everyone, including the under-served and marginalized, and yet how can we ever claim to do so when our main tool for accessing our collections is so inherently tied to two classification systems, the Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress Classification System, that were founded and shaped by the language, phrasing and thinking of one dominant culture.

As Furner concludes, Bibliographic classification schemes like the DDC occupy an ambiguous territory between description and prescription, in that they are at once reflective of literary and user warrant, and projective of distinctive worldviews.

 Being conscious of the classification systems we have in place, of the power these systems have to highlight, hide, obfuscate or completely ignore a subject, and how to go about rectifying this situation is heady stuff for the cataloging librarian to contemplate.