I attended the first ever Core Forum from October 13th to 15th in Salt Lake City. The Core Forum is a successor to the LITA Forum (LITA merged with ALCTS and LLAMA to form Core back in 2020), so this whole Forum business was a new one on me. It was an enjoyable experience and much easier to navigate than other ALA events because of the more manageable size (about 300 or so attendees). This was my first visit to Salt Lake City and I found it remarkably clean…like Canada clean. Also, there seemed to be large gaggles of children all over the place, often shepherded by just one very tired looking adult.
The opening keynote of the Forum was a fascinating discussion by C. Thi Nguyen of the University of Utah. He is a philosophy professor who specializes in social epistemology and aesthetics, and he spoke about games and whether they can be considered art, not just in the packaging of a game, but in their playing. He argued that while playing games players adopt a new set of motivations (that is, the goal of the game, even if it’s as simple as scoring points) and that by adopting these new motivations, players are actually exploring different modes of agency, and that this exploration of agency is the aesthetic heart of gaming. I’m sure he explains it better in his book “Games: Agency as Art.” During his talk he discussed some interesting sounding games, including one where four players, based on a few prompts, have to try to develop a sign language without speaking or writing, and then use this sign language to express an idea on a card they were given at the beginning. I’m a big fan of complex, involved games, but this sounded like more than I would be willing to sign up for. He also talked about “stupid games” or games where all of the fun comes from losing the game, but you can’t go into it planning to lose, like Twister or drinking games. It was probably the most interesting keynote I’ve ever attended.
But now to business. A number of the sessions on the technical services track at the Forum had to do with DEI initiatives in cataloging and metadata. I will discuss two of them, starting with “Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Principles Into Our Metadata” by Rachel Wittman, Nicole Lewis, and Allie McCormack of the University of Utah. They began their presentation by acknowledging that Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) can be outdated, offensive, and exclusive to many groups. The most famous example of such a term is “Illegal Aliens,” which was used in LCSH until just recently, when it was changed to “Noncitizens” and “Illegal immigration” (despite the push to use the less offensive language “Undocumented immigrants”). The University of Utah decided to work to address these problematic headings in their metadata, in accordance with their adoption of the Cataloguing Code of Ethics, which states “We recognize that neither cataloguing nor cataloguers are neutral, and we endorse critical cataloguing as an approach to our shared work with the goal of making metadata inclusive and resources accessible.” They began a three part project to address problematic headings in their library catalog, their digital collections, and their special collections and archives finding aids. For their library catalog, they decided to not make local changes to LCSH (which can be hard to track and cause complications should the headings be changed later), but rather to suggest changes to LCSH headings through the SACO process. SACO (or the Subject Access Cooperative Program) is a program that is open to libraries who have a sufficiently large staff that has been extensively trained in authority control and with a requisite number of staff and librarians devoted full-time to authority control work (ZSR does not qualify). For the University of Utah’s digital collections, there are no LCSH headings to worry about, but that also means there is no central authority control and that headings must be updated manually. They also chose to add alternative and preferred terms to keyword elements. The same was true for their special collections and archives finding aids. In order to remediate the metadata in these collections, they have applied for a grant to hire help in making all of these manual changes. The U of U also implemented a ticketing system to allow users to report offensive terms found in metadata records, as well as posting a harmful language statement on their catalog and other finding aids.
The session “(Meta)data Analysis for DEI” by Brian Clark and Catherine Smith of the University of Alabama took a very different approach to the issue of DEI in metadata. They began with the presuppositions that 1) inadequately described resources are effectively lost and 2) issues with LCSH can impede subject access, particularly to historically marginalized groups. They took about 500,000 bib records and ran them through their analysis (to be honest, they lost me at this point when they started talking about Python and R and such). They looked at the average number of LCSH headings per bibliographic record for works having to do with marginalized groups. They found that these works tended to have more LCSH than average. They also looked at cooccurrences of terms with LCSH headings, looking to see if there was bias within their collections (like if the terms “Poverty” or “Crime” frequently cooccurred with “African Americans”). They plan to use these data to identify areas that are underrepresented in their collections.
All in all, it was a good experience and I recommend the Core Forum to folks who are looking for an alternative to the giant scale of ALA.