Back in 2020, the Digital Library Federation’s DLF Forum was scheduled to occur in Baltimore, MD. But unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual event was decided to take place online, along with its 2021 installment.
At long last, the DLF 2022 Forum re-established the in-person format in the city where it was planned to occur two years ago. I was fortunate to be among those who convened at Baltimore for the two and a half day event from October 10-12.
The DLF 2022 Forum was part of four joint events that transpired from October 9-13 at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, located along the waterfront on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The other three events included the Learn@DLF workshop day (October 9), NDSA’s Digital Preservation 2022 (Oct. 12-13) and CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Collections Symposium (Oct. 12-13).
Prior to the event, I served on the DLF Forum Fellowship Committee and was a proposal reviewer for the sessions that were ultimately selected for the conference. As in year’s past, the forum provides a diversified program with sessions from digital technology experts, professional knowledge workers, scholars, students, and artists covering a range of topics.
Recently, DLF and CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) completed a yearlong planning process that focused on their “strategic advancement, purpose, mission and values”.
“The values conversation seems especially apt for this forum,” stated CLIR’s president, Charles Henry, in a prepared message read to the audience by Jennifer Ferretti (DLF senior program officer) during the Forum’s opening plenary. Henry, unfortunately, was unable to attend the event.
The opening plenary featured a keynote discussion entitled, “Technology in Society: In Conversation.” It was moderated by Sara Mannheimer, an Associate Professor and Data Librarian at Montana State University. The two speakers were David Nemer, an assistant professor in the Department of Media Studies and in the Latin American Studies program at the University of Virginia, and Meredith Broussard, an associate professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University.
Their talk centered on how technology affects society. The speakers raised the questions of: who creates technology, who is it designed for, who uses it, how technology benefits society, how technology can perpetuate bias and inequality, and how GLAM practitioners can support responsible technology use in our daily work?
In her upcoming book, More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech, and during the panel discussion, Mannheimer raised the notion that technical neutrality “is a myth” considering that racism, sexism and ableism “aren’t just bugs in functional machinery”.
“What if they are coded in the system itself?” she asked. “When technology reinforces inequality, it’s not just a glitch. It’s a signal we need to redesign our systems to create a more equitable world.”
Facial recognition software when identifying race and gender, and medical diagnostic systems have both been identified as being less accurate for people with darker skin—partly because these technologies have been known to be developed using people of lighter skin.
Nemer also talked about the subject matter of his most recent book, Technology of the Oppressed. The work explores how poor Brazilian residents use technologies to fight oppression and how they represent themselves in the world. From his research, he said how a post on Facebook could lead to a considerable amount of surveillance by drug cartels, or how the use of a selfie can save someone’s life.
My overall takeaway from this talk is that much work needs to be done to ensure more inclusive technology—particularly regarding algorithms. As Mannheimer noted, people need to have a clear understanding of what algorithms actually are, and that there needs to be transparency when algorithms are being used in decision making. Coincidently, the same week of the DLF Forum, the White House announced the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights that in part states that people should know when an algorithm is making a decision, and a clear way to dispute a decision that was made by using an algorithm, such as applying for a loan.
The full discussion can be viewed here.
One of the sessions I want to highlight is “Towards a Counter-Institutional Archive: Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing the Histories of the City University of New York.” Roxanne Shirazi, a librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, talked about the CUNY Digital History Archive. This site contains a collection of digital histories using Omeka. It shares contested histories of the City University of New York, such as the “Student Strikes of 1991: Graduate Center Student Takeover” and the “York College and the Jamaica, Queens Community.” The site is currently undergoing a “sprucing up,” and a spin off project is planned to incorporate a teaching framework using the collections.
CUNY has 25 campuses throughout the city. It was interesting to know that there is not a designated archivist at every campus. The Digital History Archive provides a way to collect these stories from the various campuses in a central place.
Because of the site’s delicate content, Shirazi recognizes that these important stories raise criticism of CUNY in many regards. She acknowledged the conundrum of telling these stories, but also being a strong supporter of CUNY. During the Q&A portion, audience members spoke of being carefool of not creating a narrative when providing these resources–rather allow researchers to frame their own opinions.
Another insightful presentation was “A Digital Preservation Reckoning: If we don’t lead with values, where do we end?” The presenters discussed the trend of institutions that use for-profit companies to outsource core library functions. They caution that this diminishes staff expertise in libraries and jeopardizes its holdings and resources.
They asked the audience several questions, such as who is their digital preservation provider, and how do they know if the service providers are doing what they promised. Some of the audience members responded that they do not know who their digital preservation provider is. Another said that their campus does not invest in a digital preservation provider.
Open source options were suggested as ideal. However, when seeking a for profit digital preservation provider, the panel provided some questions to raise: Where do their values overlap with yours? Is the provider transparent in their decisions? How do you know they are doing what they promised?
I also sought out sessions with metadata themes, including: “Digital Library Assessment: Brainstorming the Year Ahead”, hosted by the DLF Assessment Interest Group; and “Metadata and Description Considerations,” which included three mini sessions covering the reassessment of historical texts about American colonial rule, remediation of photograph descriptions to provide proper context of the people in the images, and how to address sensitive imagery in in digital collections.
Overall, it was great to return to DLF in person. The next installment will take place in St. Louis for 2023—can’t wait!