BCLA 2017: Hot Topic: Never Neutral: Ethics & Digital Collections

Notes from the hot topic panel.

  • Tara Robertson, CAPER-BC
  • Jarrett M. Drake, Princeton University Archives
  • Michael Wynne, Washington State University

How Libraries Can Trump the Trend to Make America Hate Again (Jarrett)

I apologize in advance as it was difficult to take notes for this talk.

  • campaign slogan: Make America Great Again; it signals to the past and invites people to look at the then, now, and the future
  • signals to romantic, ahistorial past as shown via the All the Family theme song
  • subtext matched the subtext of Trump’s campaign: referring to invoke fascism and to a time when people like them could openly suppress marginalized groups
  • control of information critical to fascism
  • those who commit the murder, write the reports: as if the victims deserved it
  • black woman journalist was
  • libraries were seen as gateways to information possibility getting into the wrong (black) hands
  • many who provided information were suppressed
  • librarians cannot stand by idly
  • if you’re trying to drive up a hill, neutral is the same as going in reverse
  • ALA issued a statement to work with Trump government, but retracted almost immediately due to protests
  • budget defund department that is main funder of libraries
  • cannot ignore fascism, and libraries cannot do it alone, but are critical.
  • propositions in pursuit of fighting fascism:
  1. Assert authority: own authority.
  2. Centre communities: their needs, vocalize displeasure of fascism. Partner with other organizations. Direct support of annonymity.
  3. Never normalize: should pause to think about the effects of normalized data that can easily go from one system and fit into another.

Ethical Curation and the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal

  • why does this conversation matter?
  • difference in fluency between librarian and potential users
  • possible that we are adding to oppression and racism
  • our collections are not neutral (and metadata is not actually objective)
  • how do our collections and institutions reflect settler colonialism?
  • how can we enhance and protect sensitive content?
  • how can we provide culturally appropriate access?
  • web portal: collaborative platform housing curated and reciprocally managed archive of Plateau cultural materials
  • use Murkutu CMS. One of the main contributors and developers.
  • collaboration between tribes, WSU, local, regional, national organizations
  • invited community members to guide and inform work, particularly how material are added to archive
  • most important and hardest intellectual work: how content is chosen and described
  • digital heritage items are described by title, basic physical description, affiliated communities (where housed, origin), category, institutional information (in the sidebar, not prominent); additional record was added through consultation with different title, community (origin), access, categories, keywords, contributors, traditional knowledge label, cultural narrative, traditional knowledge video
  • gone from sparse to much richer record
  • discovery: search, category browse (12 categories curated collaboratively), map view
  • most growth is the dictionaries with language entries
  • records and content can be uploaded, can choose whether public or private access
  • future: direct support of MOU, so ongoing support from university. other MOU tribes are able to join. training and consultation ongoing.
  • portal is a start for giving tribal community members greater control and access

Not All Information Wants to be Free: Case Study of On Our Backs


  • concerns in digitization
  • many assumptions made about sex workers; many negative stereotypes
  • On Our Backs: porn magazine was digitized
  • what is the impact of digitizing
  • very different agreeing to print, limited print run for queer audience compared to digital distribution
  • can feel objectified, real names often used, may not have gotten permission, expose to backlash, impact on business and personal lives
  • digitization have made decisions
  • concerns of privacy, copyright permission and consent, no clear take down policy
  • requested take down of collection, responded with ‘no’
  • when received first take down notice, did redact information
  • have ethical obligation to easily make contact available
  • found out photographer had copyright, but many had not signed all rights away, contracts only allowed one time use
  • Reveal digital temporarily removed collection due to “access by minors to pornography”
  • privilege to have a voice means having the responsibility to speak up…
  • listen to voices in community, speak out when you can, be sensitive when digitizing sensitive materials
  • need to have clear collection development policy, and clear contact information

End of Day

That’s it! Have a great time socializing at the reception.
capybara with monkeys

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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