A Community Public Library

By hwilli13

Larchmont Public Library


The Larchmont Public Library (LPL) has recently finished a major renovation. This has involved $1 million and nine months of construction. The renovations are a response to changing needs and uses of library patrons as well as addressing some structural flow problems. The library reopened for use on September 16, 2016.

I have used this library for about 15 years and am very conscious of the before and after. My observation takes into account my awareness of LPL’s past, the changes it has made, and what those changes suggest about who the target user is.

The old LPL was two buildings put together. The main building was two floors with a basement. The main entry opened into a large room with two wings. Each wing had periodical shelves along the walls, sofas and soft chairs. There was one catalogue computer terminal in one of the wings on a pedestal table. A narrow hall which housed the circulation desk, led to a large back room with the reference desk, and long tables with straight chairs and about 10 computer terminals. On the second and basement floors were the main collection of books, and one or two small rooms for tutoring.  The attached building (the children’s collection) was two floors, and could be entered only through a staircase or elevator in the basement of the main building or through an outside door in the back of the attached building. The walls of the hall from the outside door into the children’s room were used for changing art shows of local artists.

The LPL did not invite in a consultant to do a needs assessment (based on conversation with Mark Hagarty, LPL Webmaster and cataloguer). They were pretty clear on what they wanted to change but they did consult with several architects and structural engineers to discuss what was physically possible and practical. I would note that the knowledge of the library staff for what were their users’ needs and the transformation of that vision into changes in the library environment, are a very clear example of the analog usefulness of people in this process. The changes made did not come from an algorithm, but from human interaction. They were a human evaluation of among other things, use of technology. I am reminded of Downey’s article that stresses the almost always necessary, though sometimes hidden input of human work, in navigating technology changes or uses.

Today the LPL is very different. When you walk in the front door, you still have a reading area to the left and right. The one to the left has soft chairs and small tables, all of which have outlets for laptops. The whole building has wifi. The room to the right is now a closed quiet room, with glass walls into the main lobby. It also has small tables with outlets. The circulation desk is still in the middle, but now includes the reference staff. The area behind the circulation desk, which used to be reference is a reading room with long tables, multiple computers, multiple outlets around the room and two glass walled room where groups can study together.

You can now get to the children’s room from the main lobby. Bathrooms were put in on the first floor.

On the second floor, more rooms with glass walls have been built for groups to meet for academic or social reasons. All of the “study” rooms have tables with chairs. On the surfaces of the tables are outlets for laptops.

LPL has a Face book page, a twitter feed and a website. It has programs for all ages all the time. Various events repeat i.e. there is a mahjong group that meets every Thurs at 11. There is an SAT prep group that meets on Thurs at 5. There is a children’s story hour every Tues at 9. There is a Sat afternoon movie, and a Sun afternoon “meet the author”. There are also monthly events on any and every topic; money management, parenting for special needs children, learning how to play bridge, and on and on.

The LPL seems to be doing a rather good job at being what Lewis calls a “third place” or “third space”, that is a place that is not home or work. Lewis writes about academic libraries, but there are parallels with this community library. The library “wants to provide a variety of spaces that match the variety of ways” community members” do their work- quietly and privately, in groups, with their own technology, and with technology supplied by the library.” ( Lewis, p.93) The LPL is doing this. The technology access is there, and the various spaces to study with others, or study or read by yourself  But a third space is more than just rooms and access to technology. Lewis draws on the works of Oldenburg to elaborate. The third place is the place that is not home or work, where you feel comfortable, an “informal public space”. It is a “neutral place”, where you” can freely come and go”, you can go there and” find acquaintances”, you can become a “regular”, it’s a place that isn’t fancy but comfortable. The third place roots “people in a space where they can feel belonging, ease and warmth” (Oldenburg, p. 26)

And yet, how welcoming is this “third space”. If you do not live in the Larchmont zip code, how welcome are you? You might have a library cards from another Westchester town, but not a LPL card and so you will not be able to use the internet (use is linked to library card number). Larchmont has no low income or medium income housing (and has been sued by the state for this). This is a library for its community and it excludes others. This is seen in many ways. LPL expects its users to come in with laptops or be computer facile and does not have resources if patrons are not (it expects “information literacy” and laptop ownership). Notice the reference desk, which used to help with computer searches, has now gotten much smaller. This plays into the dynamic that Pawley notices “policies to promote “literacy” have systematically worked to render some groups of people-indeed the majority-less capable of active information use and knowledge construction than an educated elite”(Pawley, p.425) This library seems to be upholding the isolation of the educated elite (which is its community). The person who uses this library is supposed to be tech knowledgeable, is expected to be interested in programs on “money management”, and is expected to appreciate  the “Staff monthly book picks”. The library in this instance is reinforcing the elite power dynamic, which is its community, to keep out those who are not of this community. There will be no “information diffusion” there is not even an attempt at this, by the elite, downward to “everyone else” (Pawley, p.434). The knowledge stays inside the library, which stays inside the community, and the other is not welcome.



  • Lewis, David. Reimagining the Academic Library. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016
  • Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars,  Hangouts and How They Get You Through The Day. New York: Paragon House, 1989
  • https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623239/mod_resource/content/1/pawley-information%20literacy.pdf


A Political Economy of Librarianship???

By etoole

William F. Birdsall, in his “A Political Economy of Librarianship,” laments the fact that libraries have not been an important part of the “emerging national and global information infrastructures.” (Birdsall, p.1) Instead, governments have largely looked toward private enterprise to generate the means by which citizens are provided access to the so-called information highway. While I certainly share his dismay that the public institution long charged with providing public access to information has coasted through the arrival of the information age, the remedy he proposes – to develop a political economy of librarianship — is strangely misguided.

Birdsall begins by describing the “ideology of Information Technology,” supposed to be at the root of the wrongheaded information public policy which is the target of his article. This ideology builds on the drive of politicians to deliver society from the industrial to the information age by creating a space for a deregulated market for information and information services in which firms compete in the realm of e-commerce and development of information technologies. Furthermore, individuals assume the role not of citizen but of consumer, fulfilling his duty to buy goods in the “internet mall.” Certainly, this cuts a librarian to the core. To a professional whose main charge is to provide access to informational material, it would seem that the new world brought about by the merger of computers and telecommunications should provide universal access to all kinds of digitized media, or possibly provide citizens with a more transparent and direct relationship to their government. It should be used for good, not commerce.

But this phantom IT ideology which exists only for Birdsall is reminiscent of a much better established ideology, that of Neoliberalism. The notion can be summed up in the following three axioms: cut government funding of public institutions and programs (austerity); limit government interference in the market (deregulation); and, whenever possible, consign the functions of the state to private enterprises. By viewing the problem through this broader lens, with the impact on comparable public institutions brought into view, the analysis can move beyond the politics of the library and seen instead as a more generalized flaw in the present attitude of government. If, as he says, “Libraries are marginalized as institutions serving the public,”(Birdsall, p.5) they are certainly not the only ones. What about Public Schools, the worst of which are being depopulated and overtaken by private charter schools? Or Public Universities, whose state funding has been reduced from the major portion of the budget to a pittance in recent years?

Birdsall proceeds from his diagnosis, always staying within the realm of the library, to call for the development of a political economy of librarianship. This is to be accomplished through the alliance of academics and practitioners who will unite to somehow spur a reinvestment in libraries and bring them to the forefront of the knowledge-based economy. Maybe I am overly skeptical, but I think a couple of freshly minted academic papers on the “Ideology of Information Technology” will not be enough to reverse the trend of the state limiting the role of public institutions and throwing the reins to private enterprise.

To add insult to injury, Birdsall, who seeks “a political economy of librarianship [that] could examine, for example, the validity of the premises of the ideology of information technology, how they have become incorporated into public policy, and whose ends are being met”(Ibid., p.7) gives the name praxis to the creation of the proposed theory. Praxis is typically understood be mean the realization or embodiment of a theory in a – typically political – act. Writing more papers does not qualify as taking action. And, to reiterate, it is a mistake to confine analysis of this problem to the particular institution of the library. If one seeking to take action can understand the similar effects of the neoliberal ideology on other public institutions, the possibility of a dialog across those institutions begins. Rather than “providing a common ground bringing practitioner and researcher together,”(Ibid., p.7) why not build alliances between librarians, professors, teachers, etc. to counter the marginalization of the institutions you hold so dear and the assault on public goods in general? That would, at least, merit the name praxis.

Cultural Sensibility in Cultural Institutions

By aguzmanb

Cultural Anthropology in the United States has been plagued by ethical dilemmas from the country’s infancy. From creating ethically questionable projects such as Project Camelot and Project Cambridge – where American scholars were, under the name of anthropology, acting as spies for the US government – to displaying the rituals of other cultures in museums and special collections in libraries – remember that providing a sufficient cultural context in a museum cabinet is difficult, if not impossible. The PERC (Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies) article got me thinking about ethics and how they are applied in museums and special collections in libraries regarding cultural anthropology. Here I want to talk about the ethical fine line that is often crossed by museums and what some of them are doing to fix it. There is no doubt that there have been, and will continue to be, huge benefits in having certain artifacts and human remains available to study. Research using museum and library collections have been able to advance knowledge of the development of humans and the society, the history disease and religion, etc. “Display of human remains, both physically within museum galleries and online, is an important part of sharing this information to the widest possible audience. This not only spreads knowledge but may also help to generate enthusiasm for learning about our past; hopefully for the benefit of future generations. Of course, display should be done with careful thought. There is no justification for the voyeuristic display of human remains simply as objects of morbid curiosity.” This, of course, also applies to artifacts of civilizations that still exists, i.e. Native American artifacts.

The benefits of research however, must be set against the feelings of communities with strong connections to some of the artifacts and remains within museum and library collections. In recent decades there has been a growing concern in addressing ethical issues in museums and libraries as its workers have developed a cultural sensitivity and a social responsiveness to a degree unseen before. Most codes of ethics urge museums and libraries to give appropriate consideration to represented groups or beliefs. We need to know, understand and recognize the differences in cultures and seek consultation with others when caring for culturally sensitive material. Something that may seem appropriate to a “non-tribal” institution – such as a public Library – to make available to the public, may not be the case. Decisions about what to exhibit in the museum or library or what to publicize in digital collections, and the means of presentation, space, language, and so on, are critical considering it will influence the public’s perception in many ways. As curators, archivists or special collections librarians, our main responsibility, in my humble opinion, is to the culture you are presenting to the public as it may be an incorrect one – or even a disrespectful one.

One of the cases I read in conjunction to this article was a very simple one that ended with no complications – and as we know, it doesn’t always end this way. The case involves what  the best practices for culturally sensitive material held by a non-tribal institution may be in a specific situation. The Head of Special Collections and Archives of the Eli M. Oboler Library (part of Idaho State University) worked with one of its interns to identify culturally sensitive images. Once found, they felt it was necessary and proper to remove the funerary and ritualistic images of the Fort Hall Tribal – Native Americans of the area – from the digital collection until members of the aforementioned tribe were consulted. These images were taken in the late 1920s and clearly showed the sacred ceremony of the Sun Dance, a ceremony that we know is private, and a funeral of a person dressed in full regalia, thought to be a Chief. These images were retained and published prior to the arrival of the current Head of Special Collections and were paid no mind until this project in 2013. The consultation with the appropriate members of Fort Hall ended in a mutually beneficial agreement: the images in question are to be restricted to the public. The Fort Hall Tribe would also be provided with a digital copy of the other images pertaining to the tribe and, in return, the Fort Hall Tribal Archivist and the Ancestral Researcher agreed to identify the photographs and provide the information to the Head of Special Collections at ISU. Both parties were still working on this particular collection last year, but by the Head of Special Collections reaching out to the tribe, the institution has opened the door for potential future collaboration.

All collections come with some level of responsibility, and, when working with objects and human remains, cultural sensitivity should be one of the most important things we are aware of. The effects of collecting on indigenous people can be devastating to its religion, its  spirituality, and its culture. The removal of sacred pieces, for example, belittles indigenous religion. The museum or library who holds a culturally sensitive collection must make sure it is not culturally inaccurate and religiously offensive. If the institution is currently holding a questionable object, it must work to resolve the issue it may arise, as it is our responsibility.


PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. “The ethics of fieldwork.” Elon University. http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/org/percs/EthicsModuleforWeb.pdf

Fletcher, Alexandra. “In Respect of the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum.” The British Museum. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Ryan, Ellen M. “Identifying Culturally Sensitive American Indian Material in a Non-tribal Institution.” Case Studies in Archival Ethics (2014): n. pag. Print.


Red Sails, Data Ocean

By evolow

In the 18th volume of Progressive Librarian, William F Birdsall calls for “A Political Economy of Librarianship”, and, by extension, of information. He lays out an incredibly concise and apparently prescient critique of the ideology that governs information commerce. Fifteen years on, I’d like to use this reflective piece to take stock of the info tech economy, the problems that have developed since Birdsall’s writing, and the work that remains to be done.

Birdsall’s appraisal of the “ideology of information technology” consists of seven bullet points that in essence describe a free-market capitalist system in which information is the main form of capital, and laborers and consumers adapt to play their part within the system of information capital. In summation, he writes “the ideology of information technology promotes a fatalism that encourages political passivity by claiming that our fates are determined by inevitable technological change, the ‘natural’ laws of the free market, and the uncontrollable gale forces of global creative destruction.”

This fatalism has become all the more apparent as its fomenters and practitioners have blossomed into a recognizable social class, the “knowledge worker who is prepared to go anywhere in the world to sell her or his skills” and “is expected to have no loyalties to the local community and its public institutions.” In 2001, these information capitalists would have largely resembled the audience in the famous Steve Ballmer “developers” chant video, essentially a room full of brainy dweebs associated mainly with producing software for office workers. In the late 90s/early 00s infosphere, these guys existed across an unbridgeable divide in the popular imagination from the ‘cool’ computer geek––think of the computer hacker “Invisigoth” from The X-Files, the cast of The Matrix, developers of violent FPS games like Half-Life and Deus Ex, et cetera. In the intervening decade and a half, however, the sweaty billionaire and grimy hacker poles of information professionalism have converged, arriving at a consumerist, bourgeois, and superficially cosmopolitan middle ground. What happened?

I suspect that the information technology industry circa 2000, though lucrative, was still small enough to be populated with, if I may be glib, ‘true geeks’—people interested in computing for computing’s sake. Since then, the growth of the information job market outpaced the ability of the education system to fill demand for skilled labor, and the user-centered turn in the industry’s direction (embodied particularly in social networking and the parasite economy of on-demand service apps) has changed both the aesthetics and the soft skill set of the profession. With aestheticization have come a shared “clean” design language and a valorization of “innovators” like the deified Steve Jobs, his Olympian ancestor Nikola Tesla, and his earthly successor Elon Musk. Rank and file employees, for their part, are fed through purely vocational for-profit “boot camp” programs like General Assembly, with no objective besides securing a comfortable middle class career.

The “knowledge worker” that Birdsall posits serves to produce and control the distribution of the knowledge capital that is the lifeblood of this new economy. Birdsall’s second bullet point in the ideology of information technology states, “in the knowledge-based economy, only the marketplace should determine how information, its primary raw material, is generated, priced, and distributed.” Media piracy temporarily ruptured the boundaries of this strict, mercantil-ish system, but the old order has to some degree reasserted itself through the sanctification of streaming, subscription-based models. The piracy issue highlighted the important distinction that information, unlike bullion, is infinitely reproducible and distributable. While net neutrality stands, the channels for free information remain blessedly open. Libraries in this political economy ought naturally to serve as hubs for free information (duh), but suffer from the content-mill stranglehold of tech giants and media verticals on production and the mere visibility and convenience of commercial competitors in the information market.

On the content-production front, I’d like to point to the vaunted Library of Congress project to archive every tweet ever. This is a small but important step toward (being glib again) the socialization of social media. LOC recognizes the cultural relevance of platforms like Twitter, and Twitter stands to gain a sheen of legitimacy and prestige. On this front and that of boosting libraries’ visibility and usability, however, there remain labor issues to be tackled. The former involves wresting the rights to content by freelance writers or creators from media properties that exist outside the library-compatible worlds of traditional newspapers, magazines, and journals. The latter requires sweeping change to the education and training of information laborers.

The aforementioned crass social class of knowledge workers exists and continues to grow because the free market has been quicker to adapt to employers’ and technology’s demands for skilled work than the conventional education system. Legions of developers enter the market possessing and desiring nothing more than the mechanistic skillset to perform their role and the ability to adapt to incremental changes in the technologies they use. Without merely becoming more training camps for this class of laborer, the education system must step in and give ideological structure to this economy. Critical thinking and a small measure of altruism are needed, lest the all of the most skilled laborers continue to be drawn to corporate salaries over public sector work. I see a small seed of hope for this in the interdisciplinary framework of Critical Information Studies proposed by Siva Vaidhyanathan, with some challenge presented by the task of bringing it from the postgraduate level down to the more economically useful grounding of secondary or even primary education. As generations of young people grow up with ever increasing levels of immersion in information technology, it will not do to delay in teaching some critical thinking about just where all that information comes from, and what will become of it down the road. Librarianship will not replace knowledge professions from within the corporate sphere, but it has a lot of growing to do before it earns its rightful place in restoring values to the information economy.

Confronting Bias and Antiquated Terms in the Catalog

By tim gann

Even in fields that are purported to be objective, an individual’s bias in always present. Knowledge organization structures are no different, constructed as they are by a select few people in power. It is no surprise, then, that the bias inherent cataloging terms have been the subject of debate over the past few decades. This debate is the focus of Emily Drabinski’s article “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction” (2013), which points to the use of antiquated, often offensive language and subject headings within the dominant cataloging systems. Drabinski makes the point that cataloging systems tell a story about the information they represent, and have told a story informed from a white, heterosexual, Christian, patriarchal perspective. Drabinski highlights a number of efforts over the years to petition groups to change problematic language and groupings, but believes that this approach falls short of its intended goal. Drabinski advocates instead for an approach rooted in queer theory, which rejects the idea of changing the catalog and rather wants to keep the problematic language in order to make the catalog’s bias obvious and apparent to researchers, allowing them to “very quickly understand that catalogs reflect a particular point of view rather than an objective truth.” While this understanding is important for users to have, Drabinski’s reservations are too extreme, and the education she proposes can be accomplished while still changing offensive terminology and subject headings.

The basic function of cataloging is to sort materials into groups in ways that make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for. As cultural perspective changes, it is important for the catalog to reflect those changes simply so materials remain discoverable. If a user wants to find materials on certain topics, they will not be able to find them as easily if they are found under archaic subject headings. A user today would not think to look at materials dealing with homosexuality under “sexual deviance,” nor would they want to. It is somewhat ironic that queer theory applied to cataloging both maintains that identity is fluid and subject to constant change, yet insists on fixing the catalog in its original state. Drabinski explains the dissatisfaction with changing classifications by asserting that “the political focus on correcting classification structure and subject language solidifies the idea that the classification structure is in fact objective and does in fact tell the truth, the core fictions—from a queer perspective—that allow the hegemony of a universalized classification structure to persist.” However, it really seems that the opposite is true. It could well be argued that changes made to the language used in the catalog are admissions of error in the past, and an attempt to make up for those errors. They demonstrate that the structure is subject to reconfiguration, and in some ways document the shifting perspectives over time.

At one point in the article, Drabinski cites an example from an essay written in 1972 by Joan Marshall protesting the use of the word “Mammies” as a subject heading, in which Marshall asks, “Could any of us, without mumbling embarrassed and probably useless apologies, even if we dared, tell a young, militant, Black woman who wanted material on this subject to look under mammies!” This is a valid question, to the point where it seems almost rhetorical. However, Drabinski dismisses that question and instead only comments that the suggested improvement, “Negro women,” would be seen as offensive today, seemingly suggesting that “Mammies” should have been kept as a subject heading. Drabinski appears to see this interaction as a potential opportunity for educating the user on the biases inherent in cataloging, but this presupposes that the user is not so offended that they leave the library and become discouraged with the entire system. What Drabinski sees as an access point could have the potential to damage a user’s experience with the library.

Drabinski puts forth that queer theory applied in this context “challenges the idea that classification and subject language can ever be corrected once and for all,” but it should not be suggested that this language, however many times it is corrected, will always remain correct. Changing terminology is and will always be an ongoing struggle because identities are fluid and shift constantly. That only means, then, that the catalog must constantly be reappraised and changed. This might be accomplished through the communication between librarian and user that Drabinski suggests will occur when people are confronted by terms that offend them – users can voice their complaints, and after discussing the history of the catalog, librarians can proceed to lobby to change the problematic language.

While changing subject headings is important, it must be said that it is in no way a bad idea to also educate users on the fallibility of the catalog. History must not be forgotten or revised, and the existence of these subject headings should certainly be noted and taught. It’s important not to forget that bias, racism, and bigotry informed a great deal of these subject headings, and it’s also important to teach that history to concerned individuals. But does that really mean that we should accept those subject headings and allow them to stay just for the benefit of a discussion which, depending on the user, might not even take place?

These two are not mutually exclusive by any means. Discussions about the catalog can still take place on a personal level and in educational settings so long as the librarian chooses to do so. At the same time, when terms are changed in the catalog, it may be wise to annotate them in some way. It may be possible to indicate the changes in the same space cross references occupy, perhaps similarly to the way a dictionary will provide archaic, out-of-use definitions for words after supplying the modern ones. Something like this may be quite difficult, but this way items can be found under socially acceptable subject headings while still acknowledging the insensitive language previously used. Users can find materials under the current socially acceptable, inoffensive terms and still learn the history of the catalog in context. This could even better accentuate the biases in the catalog, and and invite users to challenge the authority of the catalog and help reshape it.

The catalog is a representation of the library, and while these subject headings give insight into how catalogers viewed the world, they do not represent the current positions and viewpoints of catalogers and librarians today. The issue of language in subject headings is analogous to the same issue in regard to federal and state laws, some of which were modified earlier this year (Kelkar 2016). When New York in 2009 eliminated the term “Oriental” from government documents, then-Governor David Paterson said, “The words we use matter. We in government recognize that what we print in official documents or forms sets an example of what is acceptable” (Chan & Lee 2009). The same can be said for libraries: the words we use in the catalog also set examples of what is acceptable, and it is wrong to present offensive terms as appropriate descriptors.


Chan, S., & Lee, J. (2009). Law Bans Use of ‘Oriental’ in State Documents. Retrieved from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/law-bans-use-of-oriental-in-state-documents/?_r=1

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83 (2), 94-111.

Kelkar, K. (2016, May 22). Obama signs bill eliminating ‘Negro,’ ‘Oriental’ from federal laws. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/obama-signs-bill-eliminating-negro-spanish-speaking-oriental-from-federal-laws/


Observation of Metis Cataloging System

By JHELyon

For this post, I observed elementary school students in the Berkeley Carroll Primary School library, where I work as an assistant librarian, interacting with the Metis cataloging system. This is in response to our Week 3 discussion of categorization, particularly Drabinski’s assertion that classification and subject language are inherently broken. While I’m inclined to agree that there will always be flaws in cataloging, I was interested in examining how a user-driven, specialized system might take steps in the right direction.

Metis was developed by librarians in fellow New York independent school Fieldston as a cataloging system tested and honed by children to focus on the needs of young browsers; everything from simple category names (like “Making Stuff” or “Scary”) to the categories themselves (“Animals” and “Pets” are separate sections) has the child audience in mind. There are twenty-six categories, each given a letter of the alphabet and a distinct icon, but the arrangement of these categories varies by school: for instance, while the Graphic Novel section’s suggested placement is between U (Scary) and W (Memoir), Berkeley Carroll assigns this popular section down in Z to prevent its large reader base from crowding away prose readers. Subcategories are also at local discretion, allowing students and librarians to further cater to the interest of its specific audience; this is why Berkeley Carroll, which has a major unit on ocean life in third grade, has a specialized “Marine Animals” subcategory that fills a full half of the “Animals” category.

The library I observed is the size of a small classroom, and contains roughly six thousand books. It’s one of two “hubs” in the primary school building: the “Red Hub” one floor below is largely for first- and second-graders, while my “Yellow Hub” covers third and fourth, but any student is free to use any hub. Here’s a visual of how the Metis system labels book spines: students can see the assigned letter, section, and subsection, with authors not necessarily given focus.

My observation consisted of three hour-long periods of peak usage (11:45 through 12:45) over three days in the Yellow Hub. The most notable trend is the marked distinction between third- and fourth-grade browsers: third-graders are generally new to the Yellow Hub and more often ask for help locating books, while fourth-graders easily find their sections of interest. The Metis system still requires some instruction to interact with, but I take the ease with which fourth-graders search and third-graders learn as a sign of its effectiveness.

More specifically, my assessment of Metis’s intuitive nature was bolstered when two third-graders who asked for help finding books on day one were searching independently by day two or three. A fourth-grader, in recommending a book to her friend, showed her where it was in the Fantasy section, then brought her to Tales (containing mythology) and Sci-Fi to suggest further reading. When students ask for recommendation, they virtually always use the same language as Metis, specifying that they want a “scary book” or a “realistic book.” There’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum here, particularly for students more accustomed to the system: is Metis’s language capturing how these children self-categorize, or have they merely adapted to the jargon? I’m inclined to go with the latter, but regardless, it’s clear that they navigate Metis far more easily than I did in my elementary school’s Dewey Decimal library.

While Metis’s positive qualities above hold true, it’s clear even in this basic observation that its localized customization not a cure-all salve. Many students of both grades still consistently ask where certain books are located without attempting to search; while this may say more about the convenience of a librarian than the difficulty of searching Metis, it still proves that the system remains inferior to a human search engine. That much is obvious, as categories are artificial constructs that users must learn, and even a universal, simply-taught cataloging system—among its myriad problems (read: Drabinski)—can’t take something as basic as room structure into account. There’s bound to be a learning curve in every library, and the fastest option for finding books will practically always be a librarian.

My most relevant observation about the failings of Metis was in a student’s comment that Redwall, a series about warring woodland creatures, is located in T (Adventure), while Warriors, a series about warring cats, is in V (Animal Fiction). While Redwall’s animals are far more anthropomorphic than their Warriors counterparts, wearing clothes and bearing weapons and standing on two legs, this did not convince the student that the two should be separate. I’d like to say that the student-based Metis system called for a change, or a larger inquiry into the matter with more students weighing in, but the hassle of such a shift (Redwall is a physically massive series) prohibited any section changes. The ideal behind Metis is noble, but in reality it’s impossible to fulfill every demand, even understandable ones like this with little argument to be had. Perhaps if a browser’s only option for locating a book was independent searching, there would be more of an effort to further perfect cataloging, but again, a librarian on location mitigates the problem.

Still, the appeal of a specialized catalog is self-evident; students who do opt to browse can easily find what they’re looking for when the system speaks in their language, and issues like the Redwall/Warriors incident are hardly limited to Metis. There will never be a complete solution to the intrinsic flaws of cataloging, but ditching a universal standard like Dewey for a library-by-library approach, using categories and language tailored to the population of local readers, seems to be a step in the right direction.

Stray observations:

  • The population I observed is obviously limited to Berkeley Carroll students, which is an deeply imperfect sample of children their age. Its small student population and a focus on independent learning (students, for instance, use a self-checkout service) is hardly the norm in American or global schools, nor is the price tag; even in an observation this basic, we should take the results with a grain of salt.
  • As mentioned earlier, graphic novels are easily the most browsed section on the library, to the point where checkouts are limited to one graphic novel at a time (the book limit is normally two per day, and five total books checked out at a time). With the gradual acceptance of the medium’s value and the explosion of talent being published by imprints like First Second and Papercutz, I can imagine a future where they’re integrated with works of prose due to the sheer size a Graphics section would take up.
  • Redwall is so much better than Warriors it’s not even funny.


Emily Drabinksi, “Queering the catalog: queer theory and the politics of correction”

Addressing the Benefits and Limitations Of Traditional and New Methods of Research

By elanascaglia

When attempting to understand the world around us, we begin by asking a simple question. Research becomes our response to answering those questions through methods and tools available. As information sources and technology have developed, access to that information has broadened. The event I attended provided me with the knowledge that our answers are not always in the places we look first.

Digital Art History: New Tools, New Methods focused on the development at the Frick of their Digital Art History Lab (DAHL). Hosted by the New York Chapter of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA/NY) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. ARLIS/NA is a non-profit organization created by art librarians in 1972. The organization addressed the lack of communication with the field of art libraries. Today ARLIS connects art librarians, and those interested in the field, through “programs designed to provide members with introductions to new technologies, new cultural institutions and to current artistic activities.” Digital Art History has been the most recent development in how technology helps answer established questions.

With the recent developments at the DAHL staff members of the Frick discussed their developments in the world of Digital Art History. The talk focused on distinct software systems and methodologies that could aid our own personal research. The key points that stuck out to me were discussed by Dr. Louisa Wood Ruby aided by Samantha Deutch on new developments in photoarchives, the work of Dr. Titia Hulst and her use of innovative methodologies and finally the work by Ellen Prokop’s work with GIS. I would like to make a connection with these new methodologies to PERCS steps in “The Methods of Field Work,” and how they can relate to the technological advances outside of the social sciences [1].

Dr. Louisa Wood Ruby is the head of Photoarchive Research at the Frick. Working with a group of international photoarchivists they created PHAROS, an art research database. PHAROS is still a work in progress but the public has minimal access to what is already done. The goal of PHAROS is to make resources available to researchers and institutions to find lost copies of masterpieces, including the finding of previously unattributed work.The database will have collections from North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. The range of material will be unique to this software because of the materials from western and non-western cultures. The Frick uses PHAROS to reorganize their photo collection by consolidating misplaced copies. In relation to PERCS step 30 we as researchers ask, “Do we have a responsibility to choose a venue of publication that will speak more directly to the participant community?[2]” I believe PHAROS will create a responsibility of sharing with researchers and large institutions collections for studies never conceptualized in the past due to lack of informational resources.

Another new resource of information implemented by Dr. Ruby has been ARIES (Art Image Exploration Space) with the aid of Samantha Deutch, the Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick. DAHL, along with NYU’s computer science department, created ARIES as a new tool for image analysis. ARIES allows art historians to implement technology into long standing practices like comparing and contrasting attributes. Through ARIES a researcher can find previously unknown works with the ability to manipulate images to prove a connection to a masterpiece. PERCS step 21 addresses the issues of the changing conditions in research and how to maintain promises, or stated truths[3]. With new technologies available to aid in research, many of those stated truths can no longer be considered unquestionable. Debated theoretical facts of the past can now be questioned and put to the test. ARIES can aid the researcher in diving deeper into their own curiosities to prove new theories.

An interesting software system that was introduced to the digital art history world, at this event, was Cytoscape, presented by Dr. Titia Hulst. It became clear that Cytoscape was initially created for large data collecting lab science projects, like in biology, to envision their microscopic entities as a network of connections through imagery. Dr. Hulst used Cytoscape for a large amount of data gathered about art dealers and collectors in New York City during the 1960’s. With such a range of material collected on a grand scale, finding a connection would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. PERCS step 12 stated that research “often involve[s] taking knowledge from one community for the use by another,” in this case using software from biology for investigating aspects of art history[4]. The most interesting part of Dr. Hulsts’ study that I took away was realizing how art historians have evolved to use technology to help maintain being visual learners. Cytoscape allows for this way of learning by querying data tables to create connections overlooked and unimagined until displayed as an concrete digital image.

Another technology that aids in art historical visual learning is the practical use of GIS (Geographic Information System). Presented by Ellen Prokop the Associate Photoarchivist at the Frick’s Reference Library, Prokop introduces how GIS can help answer questions but also posing new questions to ask. Like PERCS states in step 11 you need to find your motivation for doing the work because we are inherently curious and want to fulfill that curiosity[5]. To focus a study through a period eye and understanding GIS can be used to recreate a space back in time. The project Prokop focused on was the influence of El Greco on artists of 19th century Paris, like Cezanne. GIS maps were overlapped with use of todays map of Paris with one from the late 19th century along with data queried to focus her search. Prokop made a connection that counteracted the idea that El Greco was the father of modern Parisian art. She noticed, through the layered maps that the works by El Greco seen by the public were forgeries and the real ones were on limited view within Paris at the time. While GIS is typically used for archeological research, art historians have found a way to use the software to develop questions and find information hidden within the maps that we now can use to understand an art form through a historical lens.

Due to art historical research done through GIS, ARIES and PHAROS, inadequate questions can be satisfied through new information resources previously unused. In modern society databases and/or software systems wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration of art historians, librarians, computer scientists, and lab scientists to evolve research capabilities unimagined 20 years ago.

[1] Elon University. Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. The ethics of fieldwork module. Retrieved from http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/org/ percs/EthicsModuleforWeb.pdf

[2] Elon Univeristy, 12.

[3] Elon University, 9.

[4] Elon University,6.

[5] Elon University, 5.








Conflicts with Cataloguing Structures

By nfesta

Emily Drabinski’s article, Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction, demonstrates the challenges presented by our desires to open and unlock the classification and cataloging systems within library structures. Since the late 1960s, scholars and professionals of information studies have challenged the neutrality of the Library of Congress’s traditional classifications and subject headings, demanding that vocabularies be corrected to reflect current social and political contexts. While specific classification and cataloging decisions in library structures have been “fixed”, Drabinski’s queer theory demonstrates that any corrections made are only conditional and never final.


Libraries are stable spaces, controlled through traditional library classification structures and vocabularies systems that provide standards and guides for both producers and consumers of information. Consequentially, the static nature of the library makes them resistant to change. As Drabinski argues, this is problematic since libraries are dependent on language. Language transforms over time, it is adapted into new contexts and given new meanings. The information acquired through libraries are therefore organized and identified through classifications and subject headings that become socially and politically incorrect over time. More simply, information and materials within libraries end up being misrepresented.


The root of this problem steams from the static quality of hegemonic library classification and cataloging systems. In order to combat this misrepresentation, Drabinski considers continuous revisions and additions to the library’s classifications and subject headings necessary. While she acknowledges that such corrections are adequate, they conform to the hierarchical power structures within the library’s catalog. If we break down this system we can identify that the cataloguer that originally classified and catalogued a material within the organizational system, the critical cataloguer that requested the revision, and the Library of Congress which judges if classifications and subject headings are suitable, all hold significant hegemony in how information is represented. In order to compensate for our inability to dismantle this hierarchy, Drabinski asserts that librarians and catalogers should open and engage in discourse with users on the limitations of our cataloging systems. However, this response is not sufficient. Library’s may not have enough staff as well as resources to fully dive into its specific cataloging and subject heading issues. Users may not seek out library professions to voice their concern, or even have the luxury of time to listen to the history and reasons for the library’s current system. While Drabinski continues to approach the issues of hegemonic cataloging systems head on, I suggest we incorporate a sideways approach.


The purpose of forming knowledge organizations and structures within libraries is to enable both producers and consumers of information to navigate and access quality sources of information. How rich and extensive the records are in describing the various materials within the library, will determine how much quality information is communicated. As Christine Pawley states in her article, Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling, “The decisions that indexers, catalogers, and classifiers make in providing intellectual access to the contents of books and articles through subject headings, and index terms, and physically or virtually allocating works to particulars areas of the library collection, contribute to the ways in which researchers think” (Pawley, 2003). Pawley recognizes the production of accessible knowledge does not end at the physical or virtual library shelf, nor does it move in one linear direction. It is a process that continues to recontextualize sources, perpetually moving, connecting, and growing. Rather than remain within the confinements of the controlled cataloging structures, we should widen and loosen our perspective. As Pawley notes of Hope Olson’s argument, we must relinquish control and create openings within these structures so that power can leak out as well as in. Therefore when forming classifications and subject headings we cannot use what Ross Todd identifies as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. We must engage in a more critical and collaborative approach that considers all aspects of a source – its content, the context of its production as well as the author, its history (specific to the material item and larger picture), its relationship to works it was inspired by and the ones it inspired. Thus, as these facets change and evolve with time we must continue to engage in this process of reformation and discourse. Our classification systems should always be in flux, evolving, and changing relationships with one another.


While this method may be too much work for libraries to continuously manage as well as financially burdening, especially if they have large collections, such a model does exist and has been quite successful in dissolving the rigid structures of our current cataloging system. Artsy is an online art collection that is curated by its own classification system and technological framework, called the “The Art Genome Project”. The Art Genome Project maps characteristics – “genes” – that connect artists, artworks, architecture, and design objects through history, and currently, over 1,000 genes exist within this project. While this system is similar with tagging and mapping local vocabularies concepts, Artsy’s genes are more firmly rooted and cohesive. Artsy’s 1,000+ characteristics are weighted proportionally to one another. For example, categories within the Art Genome Project are displayed as complete list and are organized numerically and alphabetically. Therefore within “B”, we find “Bauhaus” (an artistic movement) is listed below “Bathers” (a subject found within artworks). If we closely examine the art that relates to the gene “Bathers”, Artsy provides a description of this subject matter and its larger history, a searchable list of artworks that contain this subject, as well as a list of related categories and artists. This structure enables users to access and obtain information through this web of related knowledge. Additionally, Artsy’s widen structured approach also allows for collaboration with Artists, Galleries, Museums, Auction Houses, Scholars and Institutions, as well as many others. Such collaboration and discourse ensures that the information within Artsy’s gene web is of quality and its information is accessible. Furthermore, as Artsy collaborates with other leaders in the field, it is continuously acquiring new artworks and information, adding new genes, and restructuring relationships. Although Artsy is a virtual collection, I believe that we can apply the same techniques within the physical spaces of the library. As seen with Artsy, the actual space where the work resides is not crucial. Rather, what is important is the ways in which information is represented within these webs and consequently communicated back to users.


Drabinski, Emily. “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.” The Library Quartely: Information Community, Policy Vol. 83, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 94-111. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669547

Pawley, Christine. “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 422-452. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309685

Rosenzweig, R. (1991). “Politics and anti-politics in librarianship.” in ibid The Progressive Librarian No. 3 (Summer 1991) pp. 2-8. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL_Jnl/pdf/PL3_summer1991.pdf

Artsy – The Art Genome Project. https://www.artsy.net/categories

Co-evolution of Humanity and Technology

By jasonz

As much I enjoy reading Norman’s thoughts on the co-evolution of humanity and technology in his article from The Invisible Computer. I find his views on the technological impact on humanity to be a bit pessimistic. He sees technology and machines as some foreign entities that are beyond our control while overlooks many aspects of technology such as its potential as a tool for creation and knowledge transfer.

While Norman makes a good point suggesting people are” forgetful of details, with a poor sense of time, a poor memory for facts and figures, unable to keep attention on a topic for more than a short duration, reasoning by example rather than by logic, and drawing upon our admittedly deficient memories of prior experience.“ I think comparing humans to analog is a questionable analogy. Analog technology was created for the purpose of storing and reproducing information in a systematic way. It is as much machine as any modern technology, but dated. Calling ourselves analog is suggesting we are still living in the past. In Norman’s view, ”people are analog, insensitive to noise, insensitive to error. People extract meanings, and as long as the meanings are unchanged, the details of the signals do not matter. They are not noticed, they are not remembered” I find it hard to agree with this statement. While we do have high tolerance for errors, we are sensitive to noise, sensitive to error. Our accumulated knowledge and experience have taught us noise is detrimental to decision-making. We spend tremendous amount of time and effort to minimize errors through documenting, reproducing and examining data to identify patterns. With the help of technology, we are constantly learning from our mistakes and trying to make sense of world through analyzing new and historic information.

Norman points out that “human beings are the results of millions of years of evolution, where the guiding principle was survival of the species, not efficient, algorithmic computation.“ Norman would be right if we still live in prehistoric times as hunters and gatherers. When people started forming societies that were organized around agriculture and institutions, our priorities shifted. As population grow so does our need for stability and predictability. Our obsession with efficiency and predictability can be traced back to our need to make better forecast to increase food production in order to sustain an ever-growing population. Our obsession with stability is needed for governance and establishing orders. Human beings have “co-evolved with social interaction, cooperation and rivalry, and communication”. Society would not have thrived and progressed without stability and improved efficiency in tools making and resource utilization made possible through technological progress.

Norman points out that technological progress and our obsession of efficiency in production have reduced us to just machines in an assembly line “hence too came the dehumanization of the worker, for now the worker was essentially just another machine in the factory, analyzed like one, treated like one, and asked not to think on the job, for thinking slowed down the action.” While this is somewhat true, technological progress has the potential to save us from dehumanization by automating low skill jobs and give us more time to focus on creative tasks that require cognitive skills. Although there have been numerous debates on the economic implication of job displacement by technology, improved efficiency through automation have make goods and services more affordable and accessible. Advances in technology have also created many job opportunities for the creative industry and information professionals. Norman points out the issue that technology has moved so fast that we are unable to keep up. “The slow evolutionary pace of life is no longer up to the scale and pace of technological change. The accumulation of knowledge is enormous, for it increases with every passing year. Once upon a time, a few years of schooling — or even informal learning — was sufficient. Today, formal schooling is required, and the demands upon it continually increase.”  While I believe Norman’s statement resonates with many of us who are always in pursuit of new knowledge to stay competitive in the world. I feel that knowledge does not accumulate perpetually. Knowledge becomes obsolete as we find better ways of doing things. For example, while it is helpful to understand machine codes, not a lot of software engineers use machine codes for programming. New knowledge supersedes old knowledge. Whatever knowledge we find relevant today may not be relevant a decade later. Our pursuit of knowledge can go as far back as the prehistoric times when we sought ways to identify weather pattern and better farming techniques. Technological advances facilitate the transfer of information to help us stay informed of nascent and relevant knowledge. There is no shortage of vast libraries of digital information and self-guided online education. The sufficiency of education is subjective and highly dependent on individual need. It is up to our individual choices to decide whether to take advantage and adapt to the ever-changing world.

Norman brings up some interesting points but I find his views to be a bit dated. I do agree with the fact that technology needs to be created in a way that should complement us, but I find it questionable that “we are compliant, flexible, tolerant. Yet we people have constructed a world of machines that requires us to be rigid, fixed, intolerant.” Machines do not require us to be rigid and intolerant of errors. Machines are programmable and follow rules set by humans. Machines are as flexible as we build them to be. The way machines are built is a reflection of our capabilities in applying knowledge to build tools to advance our cause. With advances in digital technology, electronic devices have become portable and computer processors have become much more powerful. The costs of producing and storing information become much cheaper and access to information has become much easier. Without accuracy and precision, much of technological progress that we have come to appreciate would not have existed today. Although “digital signals are limited in values”, they have enabled much creativity and information freedom. As complex as computing devices have become, they are still largely single-purpose tools that cannot make decisions and only capable of performing tasks in repetition. Machines are tools that help us to create better tools. While I do agree with the fact that “We have constructed a world of machinery in which accuracy and precision matter. Time matters. Names, dates, facts, and figures matter. Accurate memory matters. Details matter.” I don’t think we have forgotten we are still good at experimenting and inventing through trials and errors.


Norman, D. A. (1998). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex, and Information Appliances are the Solution. MIT Press. Chapter 7: Being Analog

Trickle-down Information: The Enlightenment Model and Information Dissemination in the Modern Library

By kraines

Note: I believe this subject has the potential for expansion and further investigation. Any feedback, criticism, and questioning would be greatly appreciated as I am considering expanding this essay into a full research topic.

The Library is an establishment intended for the dissemination of information, the modern foundation of which is historically rooted in the age of Enlightenment. As literacy and readership increased, foundations of knowledge and governing bodies began to invest in the construction and design of libraries. [1] The intellectual and wealthy elite of the enlightenment age spurred these modes of knowledge delivery, placing themselves as creators and controllers of information. The library and university were established as a means to circulate created information based on a top-down structure. At one point, this was highly restricted in terms of access, often denying women, people of color, and those in poverty. [2] Today, these are not strictly enforced laws of conduct but the established system continues to place the same types of people at a disadvantage.

Many critics note the power dynamics established in the creation and distribution of knowledge based on the Enlightenment model. The distribution of information from the creator to the consumer continues to enforce this model of dissemination and the related top-down power structure. [3] The researcher, the student, and the public library patron are only able to access the resources their institution can afford or will allow. Libraries emphasize obtaining and providing collections that will meet the needs and expectations of their community. However, the community, as consumers, is not in a position to greatly influence the collection and distribution of information.

The Digital Age is believed to provide greater opportunity for the process of disseminating information; however, most scholarly articles are only available through glass walls. The practice of open access is not a solution to inaccessibility since publishers and institutions often hold most republication rights to any scholarly production. “Library access to electronic resources is another widely acknowledged economic barrier.” [4] Classification and distribution reinforces information as a commodity available for commercialization. [5] Copyright holders limit distribution to specific journals, repositories, and databases. The biggest databases, often with the most diverse amount of publications, are only accessible through educational institutions, including libraries. The consumer is dependent on what institutions they may access and what that institution chooses to make available.

Furthermore, laws such as the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the Research Works Act have often run the risk of further hindering an open access system of information. [6] Opponents to open access often view information as a risk in the wrong hands. Peter Schmidt of The Chronicle of Higher Education criticizes the potential for “the publication of inferior and unreliable journals” and “the risk that research in fields such as medicine will fall into the hands of people who might misuse it.” [7]  Although these bills have not reached the point of becoming law, their proponents echo the power structures and control of information exemplified by the Enlightenment Age.

The Library places great emphasis on obtaining and distributing materials of authority. We continue to see institutions of knowledge, universities and bodies of government, as the authority on particular forms of information. Information produced and distributed through these institutions is considered the voice of scholarly authority. Minority groups are often underrepresented in academic institutions, and sometimes banned from shelves and curriculum. [8]  The continued movements toward open access creates new opportunities for equitable information distribution. In a consumer-based society, it’s not surprising that information is treated as a commodity for trade. Publishers and institutions manage how users access information by selecting exclusive databases to allow distribution. The duty of the modern library is to move away from a neutral stance and defend accessibility, free speech, and the freedom of information. The Library as a disseminator is the door between the creator and consumer. The ethical librarian should provide open access that will benefit and improve the lives of library patrons. The Library, as an institution of authority, should be the voice of dissent toward political campaigns aimed to restrict information access. [9] The dissemination of information via a top-down power structure places those at the bottom under a significant disadvantage. The purchase and exchange of information is designed to benefit the publisher and the distributor, enforcing their authority as the all-knowing-elite. The modern Library holds an institutional responsibility to involve the consumer in the process of information dissemination, providing greater opportunity for information creation and understanding.



  1. Dahlkild, N. (2011). The Emergence and Challenge of the Modern Library Building: Ideal Types, Model Libraries, and Guidelines, from the Enlightenment to the Experience Economy. Library Trends, 60(1), 11-42.
  2. Pawley, C. (2003, October). Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling. The Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422-452.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Pribesh, S., Gavigan, K., & Dickinson, G. (2011). The Access Gap: Poverty and Characteristics of School Library Media Centers. The Library Quarterly, 81(2), 143-160.
  5. Pawley, C. (2003, October). Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling. The Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422-452.
  6. Chadwick, R. (2012, December). Protecting Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research: The Rise and Defeat of the Research Works Act. The Serials Librarian, 63(3-4), 296-304.
  7. Schmidt, P. (2010, February 14). New Journals, Free Online, Let Scholars Speak Out. from http://www.chronicle.com/article/open-access-journals-break/64143
  8. Reichman, H. (2012, March). Opposition grows to Tucson book removals and ethnic studies ban. Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, 61, 1-84.
  9. Rosenzweig, R. (1991). Politics and anti-politics in librarianship. Progressive Librarian, 5–8. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL_Jnl/pdf/PL3_summer1991.pdf
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