Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Teaching the Radical Catalog #FestivIL

I'm attending the virtual conference FestivIL (three half days, today until Thursday) and I will do a little liveblogging over the next 3 days. The format for a number of sessions was to have a prerecorded video, that people are supposed to view in advance, to have more time for discussion on teh day. The keynotes are all in this format, and the first is from Emily Drabinski on Teaching the Radical Catalog
In her video, Drabinski talked a bit about her own history & position, and then gave us illustrations of the problems with cataloguing, classification and indexing systems - using examples relating to gender, sexuality, and the family. However, she also identified the practical problem that learners needed support, and just rejecting these tools was not going to help them learn, thus "This is the task of the critical information literacy instructor: I want to teach you both how this system is reflective of power, and these are the tools that you need in order to get what you need" This can mean "teaching students about the catalogue as a text", so that they both get information (e.g. how to find a book) and learn to critique the tool they are using. For example, the way in which the book is indexed may obscure its revolutionary, radical subject, and thus make it irretrievable if you are searching in these terms. By surfacing and discussing these issues the information literacy librarian can raise learners' understanding of systems and power strucures, and how they impact people's lives.  

In the session itself, the focus was on addressing questions posed by participants, in advance or on the day. The following is just my own interpretation of what was said, so please don't treat it as authoritative, also I'll just mention a few questions. The first question was - is it possible to develop cataloguing & classification systems in this day and age, and can you get rid of what is there already? How viable are cataloguing and classification as skillsets? Drabinski recognised the difficulty of creating the system in the first place (dismantling it is not a simple thing), and also that there is value in creating metadata that really does describe items so you can get hold of them (even when so many are googling). This led to a discussion about the problematic corporate nature of Google; and ideal classification schemes (and the problem of creating one that is truly inclusive and meeting everyone's needs). Later on, issues around actual physical organisation of the collection were mentioned - and how it was more difficut than, say, changing subject headings.

Another question was "How do we have this conversation with people who are more traditional?" which it was agreed was a really useful question, but challenging to address! One idea was that because the catalogue was not "personal" it could be a less emotional way of getting talking about the issues of difference and exclusion.

The session chair (Jess Haigh) highlighted a key idea of Drabinski's talk - wringing what you can out of the system. There is also the issue of what you do after you've come up against the limit of your system - and have to "figure out how you change the picture". 

Another question was about balancing the perspectives of author, patron (and some other group, sorry I didn't catch it) - and Drabinski said that there was a need to think about the way in which someone might want to find or might describe an item, and not just represent the document by the way the author chooses to identify it (this seemed to reinforce the idea that you need to be open in seeing an item from different perspectives). 

Altogether a stimulating session and I'll add the link to Drabinki's video when that's made public after the conference.

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