Back in August I wrote a Bitstreams post about the various ways by which those of us who work with library metadata could attempt to tackle the issue of problematic descriptions and descriptive standards. One of the methods I mentioned was activism, and I highlighted the documentary ‘Change the Subject!’, which follows the story of students and librarians at Dartmouth University as they worked together to lobby the Library of Congress to stop using the term ‘illegal aliens’ to describe undocumented immigrants.
Recently, the Triangle Research Libraries’ Network offered a screening of this documentary to its constituent libraries, who were treated to a special viewing (and free popcorn!) at Durham’s iconic Carolina Theater. I attended this screening and participated in a panel discussion following the film.
I found the documentary to be both encouraging and disheartening: encouraging, as the student activists’ vision, fortitude, and perseverance is inspiring, but disheartening as ultimately, their campaign to have the term ‘illegal aliens’ removed from the Library of Congress Subject Headings failed, due to intervention from Congress.
However, the panel discussion following the screening restored some of my faith that we could still manage problematic metadata with the tools at our disposal. Some of the ideas that were mentioned included:
- Identifying alternative thesauri and vocabularies that better represent diversity, equity, and inclusion, and being proactive in mapping problematic metadata to preferred terms.
- Working with library vendors to communicate that this is an issue we care about, and perhaps suggesting the use of more inclusive language in their products.
- Working with students and student activist groups to collaborate on identifying and remediating areas for improvement in our descriptive practices (as well as library work and spaces in general).
- Continuing to use SACO funnels – formal channels for submitting subject authority records to the Library of Congress – while recognizing that this is time consuming yet important work.
And, of course, we can use the technological solution we have already developed for suppressing problematic subject headings from the shared TRLN discovery layer (eg, Duke, UNC, and NCSU’s catalog). Work has progressed on developing policies and governance to support workflows for implementing this solution, including the formation of a TRLN Discovery Metadata Team, which will focus on the shared discovery layer, and a more broadly focused TRLN Metadata Interest Group. Stay tuned!