The bias hiding in your library



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Library subjects and call numbers can be the subject of controversy.
jakkaje808/shutterstock.com

Amanda Ros, Texas A&M University

For many years, the Library of Congress categorized many of its books under a controversial subject heading: “Illegal aliens.”

But then, on March 22, 2016, the library made a momentous decision, announcing that it was canceling the subject heading “Illegal aliens” in favor of “Noncitizens” and “Unauthorized immigration.”

However, the decision was overturned a few months later, when the House of Representatives ordered the library to continue using the term “illegal alien.” They said they decided this in order to duplicate the language of federal laws written by Congress.

This was the first time Congress ever intervened over a Library of Congress subject heading change. Even though many librarians and the American Library Association opposed Congress’s decision, “Illegal aliens” remains the authorized subject heading today.

Cataloging and classification are critical to any library. Without them, finding materials would be impossible. However, there are biases that can result in patrons not getting the materials they need. I have worked in university libraries for over 20 years, and I’d like to highlight some issues of bias that you need to be aware of in order to find what you’re looking for.

How library catalogs work

The U.S. does not have an official national library. However, the Library of Congress fills this role on several fronts.

Many libraries across the U.S. adopt policies established by the Library of Congress, such as their call numbers and subjects for cataloging books. Its subject headings system is one of the most popular in the world.

Subjects are used to assign call numbers, so that items on similar topics are grouped together. An item will have only one call number, but it can have multiple subjects.

Using a specific system ensures consistency. For example, imagine how many variations of “William Shakespeare” you might have to search for if libraries did not use the authorized term “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.”

The ‘straight white American man’ assumption

In April 2018, I presented my research into issues of library bias in the Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings at NCORE, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education in New Orleans.

Today, when I search for subjects containing “women” or “men,” the results are unbalanced. There are 4,065 subject terms containing “women” and only 444 containing “men.”

One example of bias is subjects containing the word “astronauts.”

Women are designated with “Women astronauts” and “African American women astronauts,” but there is no subject heading for male astronauts. A book about astronauts who are men would have the general subject “Astronauts,” unless the racial identity prompted the use of a subject like “Hispanic American astronauts” or “Indian astronauts.” Likewise, a book about Russian astronauts would have a geographic subdivision added: “Astronauts – Soviet Union” instead of “Russian astronauts.”

Official Library of Congress subject headings involving astronauts.
Amanda Ros, CC BY

Without gender, race or geographic qualifications, “Astronauts” can be assumed to mean white American men in terms of library subjects.

Another exercise I did was to search for professions that are traditionally perceived as female. Nurses, for example, were divided equitably, with subjects for both “Male nurses” and “Female nurses.” However, under “Prostitutes,” there was only a “Male prostitute” subject heading, revealing the generic assumption that most prostitutes are female.

Official Library of Congress subject headings for three professions traditionally perceived as female.
Amanda Ros, CC BY

This is not to say that there aren’t positive changes occurring. For example, in the late 1970s, “Afro-Americans” replaced “Negroes.” This was in turn replaced by “African Americans” or “Blacks” in 2000. In 2001, “People with mental disabilities” replaced “Mentally handicapped” and “Retarded persons.”

Gender identity is also an area where positive changes have been made. LGBT subjects have been distinguished and classed under “Sexual minorities” since 1972, rather than being under the subject “Sexual deviations,” as they previously were. “Sexual deviations” does not even exist as a subject heading anymore.

In December, the Library of Congress changed the broader term from “sexual minorities” to simply “persons,” in order to align with how other minorities are handled.

The classification dilemma

Many items cover multiple subjects, yet a single physical item can only be shelved in one location. Selecting a call number automatically devalues other subjects, but it must be done.

For example, take the book “Women of the Depression: Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929-1939.” Would you classify it under women’s history, Depression of 1929, Texas history or somewhere else?

Catalogers rely upon publisher-assigned subjects and summaries to help assign library subjects. These subjects, the Book Industry Standards and Communications codes, consist of 52 main categories, which are not as specific as Library of Congress subject headings. This can result in incorrect subjects being applied.

For example, I recently cataloged a book about basketball. The BISAC subject was “sports.” While it’s true that basketball is a sport, if I assigned “sports” as the main subject, it would be classed somewhere around GV704, but if I assigned the subject “basketball” it would be classed under GV885. Between these numbers, there could be books covering rules, the Olympics, equipment, air sports, water sports, winter sports and roller skating before the “Ball sports” starting with baseball. This difference could result in the patron not finding the book if browsing the shelves where the other basketball books are.

So the issue is that, by prioritizing certain subjects over one another, it might be more difficult for readers to find what they’re looking for. Women’s history books (HQ1121) may be far away from books about the Depression of 1929 (HB3713); therefore, someone looking for books about the Great Depression might not find the book she needed if it was classed in women’s history.

In my experience, catalogers try to be unbiased when applying subject headings and call numbers. But established subjects are created and adapted based on societal norms. If you can’t find what you need in your library, be aware that the term you use today might not be the term that was previously created. Ask your librarian for help.The Conversation

Amanda Ros, Coordinator of Monograph Copy Cataloging, Texas A&M University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Don’t worry, a school library with fewer books and more technology is good for today’s students



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School libraries are no longer just places where books are stored.
from shutterstock.com

Elizabeth Tait, RMIT University; Huan Vo-Tran, RMIT University; Paul Mercieca, RMIT University, and Sue Reynolds, RMIT University

A recent article about a new approach to a school library sparked vigorous discussion on social media. Many worried the school had completely abolished traditional library services. The article describes how a Melbourne school changed its library to a technology-focused centre staffed by “change adopters” who host discussions with students and encourage creative thinking.

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The school’s principal was forced to defend the library’s restructure. She wrote that its traditional purpose hadn’t been lost.

The College Library has been transformed into a Learning Centre that continues to offer all library services to students and staff, including a significant collection of fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers, magazines and other print resources, as well as online access to other libraries.

This school’s approach isn’t unique. Many schools have reconfigured their library spaces to embrace a model of integrating library services – where traditional library resources are combined with technology. Some have installed new technologies in so-called “maker spaces”. These are where students can be creative, often using technologies such as 3D printers and recording suites.

The purpose of today’s libraries isn’t only to maintain the traditional roles of promoting reading, developing information literacy and providing access to a collection of books and other resources. Today’s school libraries are fundamental to broader digital literacy, information provision and developing critical evaluation of information.




Read more:
Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant


The importance of the library

School libraries improve student achievement. A synthesis of international studies demonstrates that having a library leads to successful curriculum outcomes, including information literacy and positive attitudes to learning. It also improves academic achievement through higher test or exam scores.

A detailed study of 30 teacher librarians in Australia showed they also play a key role in supporting students with special educational needs. They do this by identifying readers and students at risk and working with them to improve both educational and social outcomes.

Teacher librarians have dual educational and librarianship qualifications. This means they have knowledge of pedagogy and curriculum combined with library and information management skills.

Today’s students need guidance in interpreting online information.
from shutterstock.com

Libraries and library staff have consistently responded to the changing needs of society. And library professionals have been at the forefront of embracing technology: from establishing the first computer labs in schools in the 1980s through to working with students and teachers to use new technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, gaming and recording suites in learning and creativity.




Read more:
Technology and learning in the classroom: six tips to get the balance right


Libraries and technology

There is a lack of understanding of what librarians can do for a school community and a belief children don’t need help with learning how to use technology. Information can be inaccessible, and misunderstood, without proper instruction, guidance and support. This is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have good access to the internet at home, or those with learning differences.

As the evidence base for what makes an effective library grows, it’s becoming recognised that

the 21st century school library professional is a digital leader, an innovator, a creator, a promoter, a resource and research specialist, a curriculum adviser, and much more.

Teacher librarians educate children in the core skills of searching and evaluating information. They also support and empower students in areas such as digital citizenship. This enables children to fully participate and engage with the complex digital landscape.

As Chelsea Quake, a teacher librarian at a Melbourne public school, told us:

Students leave school reading fake news, turning to Instagram for answers to their health questions, and falling flat on their first university paper, because they never truly learnt how to research.

Skills such as information and digital literacy are core requirements for civic participation. Young people have tremendous opportunities to leverage the power of technologies to ensure their voices are heard about issues that will affect them and their children in the future. And they need new and evolved library services to help them get there.




Read more:
Friday essay: why libraries can and must change


The Conversation


Elizabeth Tait, Lecturer in Information Management, RMIT University; Huan Vo-Tran, Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University; Paul Mercieca, Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University, and Sue Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Archive of Sumerian Literature


The link below is to an archive website for Sumerian literature, one of the first known languages and some of the earliest known literature.

For more visit:
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/

More on the Internet Archive’s Open Library Copyright Crisis


The link below is to an article reporting on issues for the Internet Archive in the United Kingdom over copyright and the Open Library project.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/22/internet-archives-ebook-loans-face-uk-copyright-challenge

Five tips to make school bookshelves more diverse and five books to get you started



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Children need to be able to see themselves in the books they read.
Cockburn Libraries/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Helen Joanne Adam, Edith Cowan University

A lack of diverse books is failing children from minority backgrounds. This is something that should concern all Australians.

I studied five Australian early learning settings and found less than 5% of books contained cultural diversity. My more recent findings show educators are struggling to use books in ways that promote intercultural understandings.




Read more:
Eight Australian picture books that celebrate family diversity


Diverse books can help achieve principles of diversity written into Australian education polices. The potential of diverse books in addressing these principles and equity more generally is too important to ignore.

How books impact little readers socially and academically

Reading to children has a powerful impact on their academic and intellectual development. Children learn about themselves and the world through the books they’re exposed to. Importantly, children can learn understanding and respect for themselves and for those who are different to them.

The majority of children’s books depict white main characters.
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash, CC BY

But a lack of diverse books means we have a serious problem. Currently, children from minority backgrounds rarely see themselves reflected in the books they’re exposed to. Research over the last two decades shows the world presented in children’s books is overwhelmingly white, male and middle class.

For children from minority groups, this can lead to a sense of exclusion. This can then impact on their sense of identity and on their educational and social outcomes.

Stereotypes and misrepresentation

The evidence regarding Indigenous groups across the world is even more alarming. Research shows these groups are rarely represented. And, if represented at all, are most likely to be represented in stereotypical or outdated ways.

Many educators or adults unwittingly promote stereotypical, outdated or exotic views of minority groups. This can damage the outcomes for children from those groups. Children from dominant cultural groups can view themselves as “normal” and “others” as different.




Read more:
How children’s picturebooks can disrupt existing language hierarchies


In my recent study, I found the book collections in early childhood settings were overwhelmingly monocultural. Less than 5% of the books contained any characters who were not white. And in those few books, the minority group characters played a background role to a white main character.

Particularly concerning was the lack of representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Of 2,377 books, there were only two books available to children that contained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander characters. Only one of these was a story book.

In this book, the Aboriginal character was portrayed as a semi-naked person playing a didgeridoo in the outback. There were no books showing actual everyday lifestyles or views of Aboriginal people.

Teachers are uncertain

The accompanying practice of teachers may also be counterproductive to achieving equitable outcomes for children from minority backgrounds. The teachers in my study were keen and committed to the children in their care. They were passionate about the importance of reading to children. But when it came to selecting books, they struggled to know what books to select and how best to use them.

Teachers also need support to learn how to select diverse books.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Other research has found similar uncertainty among teachers. Some teachers overlooked the importance of diversity altogether. Some saw diversity as a special extra to address occasionally rather than an essential part of everyday practice.

How can we make bookshelves more diverse?

The call for more diverse booksfor children is gaining momentum around the world. The value of diverse books for children’s educational, social and emotional outcomes is of interest to all.

The voices of Aboriginal and minority group writers calling for change are gaining momentum. But there is still much to be done.

The recent development of a database from the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literacy is an important step. Publications of diverse books are still very much in the minority but some awareness and promotion of diverse books is increasing.

These important steps forward could be supported with better training for teachers and increased discussion among those who write, publish and source books for children. Here are five tips to help you build a more diverse book collection.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Educators and parents can strive to create libraries of inclusive books. This can ensure every child has the opportunity to achieve the substantial benefits we know books can bring. Here are five book titles to get you started on building a more diverse collection of books.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

When we share diverse books with children, they gain opportunities to see themselves reflected and affirmed. Importantly we broaden children’s perspectives and understandings of those that are different to themselves.




Read more:
Telling the real story: diversity in young adult literature


This supports children to value others as unique and equal individuals.
Inclusive book collections which depict and affirm a diverse range of children, will contribute to equitable outcomes for all children.The Conversation

Helen Joanne Adam, Lecturer in Literacy Education and Children’s Literature, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Internet Archive’s Copyright Crisis


The link below is to an article that reports on the copyright crisis facing the Internet Archive and the Open Library.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/22/internet-archives-ebook-loans-face-uk-copyright-challenge