In order to critically engage with scholarship, scholars need to be aware of the inherent problems within the system of academic scholarship. Be aware that many databases have inherent bias that reflect a primarily white, cis-male standard that permeates American society and academia. Even the terms we use to search for research are inherently problematic. By acknowledging these inherent problems, all scholars can participate in improving the academic and public discourse.
Scholar Representation by Race This tally acknowledges the white supremacy in this field: the numbers indicate the racial representation of the scholarship listed in this LibGuide. Black Scholars: 5 Indigenous Scholars: 2Latinx Scholars: 3 APID(A) Scholars: 0 White Scholars: 6
You will find this on many of our LibGuides, as a system to keep us accountable in looking at the racial diversity of the sources we provide. These sources have been selected based upon research for the Kennedy Library's Digital Publishing Project and Kennedy Library's Change the Subjectevent.
Language is Not Neutral
The way we use words are full of historical context, which affects the way words organize our knowledge. In Cal Poly's case, we use a standard dictated by the Library of Congress Subject Headings, a “controlled vocabulary” to catalog materials. These subject headings determine the results from keywords that you may type into your OneSearch bar).
The Library of Congress Subject Headings began in 1898, posed (and still poses) as a stance of “neutrality.” As a “controlled vocabulary,” subject headings are used to organize and connect terms in library catalogs across the world. The LOC Subject Headings were created because the Library of Congress itself was moved to a new building. This list (originally large bound books) was based off of American Library Association’s list in order to catalog the vast array of subjects and support the nation’s interests at that time.
Words currently are also the tools to interpret images digitally. Currently, there are no specific standards alt-text for images. This can result in racist, oppressive methodologies in organizing these images, as shown by MIT's Tiny Images dataset.
To read more about organizing knowledge, please look through the following sources:
Sanford Berman is a librarian who has, for decades, advocated for a social justice lens in changing Library of Congress terms such as "sexual perversion," "yellow peril," and relationships between terms, such as "lynching" cross-referencing "criminal justice, administration." He has written about this, extensively, which can be found on sanfordberman.org. See the history of these changes from Steven A. Knowlton.
"Aberrations in the Catalog.” Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge, by Melissa Adler, Fordham University, New York, 2017, pp. 120–143. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1xhr79m.8.
An example of a reimagining of the way to classify beyond the Library of Congress Subject Headings: Kristine Nowak and Amy Jo Mitchell. “Classifying Identity: Organizing an LGBT Library” (2016). Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). 1452.
Critically Understanding Information Sources
Why are these ideas important? As scholars, we are all responsible for the ways we find, share, and write equitable scholarship.
These sources are a select few scholars and work that I continuously refer to when thinking about the inequities of understanding higher ed. They range from a whole book, to a collective bibliography, to a chapter in a collection of similarly critical works. The last piece of writing describes the dangerous assumptions when we rely upon institutions without understanding their histories to refer knowledge.
Hull, Akasha Gloria, Patricia Bell-Scott, Barbara Smith, editors. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave. Feminist Press: 1982.
McMillan Cottom, Tressie. "Digitized Institutions and Inequalities"2017doi:10.2307/j.ctt1t89cfr.15In Digital Sociologies, edited by Cottom Tressie McMillan, Daniels Jessie, and Gregory Karen, 139-46. Bristol, UK; Chicago, IL, USA: Bristol University Press, 2017.
In February 2020, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo screened the documentary Change the Subject, followed by a panel discussion with Dartmouth College student activists, Estéfani Marín and Óscar Rubén Cornejo Cásares, and librarian Jill Baron, all featured in the documentary. The panel was moderated by Cal Poly's Adrienne Garcia-Specht.
Change the Subject tells the story of Dartmouth students challenging the use of the term “illegal alien” as a subject heading in the library catalog. The students’ advocacy took them all the way from Dartmouth’s Baker-Berr Library to the halls of Congress, demonstrating how an instance of campus activism entered the national spotlight and how a cataloging term became a flashpoint in the immigration debate on Capitol Hill.
Kennedy Library's Culturally Responsive Cataloguing Group spurred the change in our local systems, where the racist term "illegal" will no longer appear, and be visibly replaced with "undocumented person."
In conjunction with the event, Kennedy Library invited the Cal Poly community to read through a selection of the current 41st Library of Congress Subject Headings, a “controlled vocabulary” used to catalog our library materials, and annotate the subject headings that may be dehumanizing, biased or obscure. Community members pointed out the inconsistent assumptions in how our knowledge is arranged, or suggest terms that should be used instead.
Here is a visual of the responses we gathered:
Thank you to Isabela Presdo-Floyd '20, Margot Muvihill '22, and Russ White for collaborating in this graphic.