Revisiting NISO Virtual DEIA Events

Reinforcing Our Learning

For purposes of reinforcing previously absorbed information, it can be easier to quickly review a brief document than to view the original learning segment in real time.  During the final quarter of 2021, NISO's DEIA committee hosted three virtual learning webinars for the public information community.

As a reminder of what was said during those events, Greg Grazevich of the Modern Language Association and member of NISO's DEIA Committee has kindly provided these summaries of our 2021 webinars. 

Do you remember what you learned? 

Metadata to Support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)

October 4, 2021

Speakers: Treshana Pereraj (University of Kentucky), Merrilee Proffitt (OCLC Research Library Partnership), B.M. Watson (University of British Columbia School of Information and Homosaurus Editorial Board)

Moderators: Karim Boughida (University of Rhode Island Libraries), Maria Stanton (Atla)

Treshana Pereraj ("DEIA and Metadata") began with a statement of positionality that modeled her approach to DEIA in metadata: “Bring one's lived experience, leavened with cultural humility and acknowledgement of privilege, to descriptive tasks. Make a conscious decision to highlight elements of work involving metadata that may be in conflict with standards and even the very principles of standardization. Keep certain self-reflective questions in mind: How do we acquire knowledge that allows us to center DEIA issues in metadata? Whose expertise do we rely on? What kind of labor model do we apply? How are contributions recognized?”

Pereraj urged participants to understand that working with metadata must not be siloed. If libraries, archives, museums, etc. want to effect systemic change and create descriptive metadata from a more inclusive, consciously ethical standpoint, the work and the responsibilities it entails must be collective.

Merrilee Proffitt ("Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Metadata: Some Works in Progress") took listeners on a tour of recent efforts related to DEIA and metadata, highlighting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy development at OCLC (principles include "don't deepen harm" and "make all feel valued and appreciated"); the documentary film Change the Subject, about Dartmouth College students’ efforts to change offensive Library of Congress subject headings; Kimberly Christen of Washington State University’s presentation for OCLC, "We Have Never Been Neutral: Search, Discovery, and the Politics of Access;" and Proffitt's own writing on DEI issues in various forums. This overview culminated with an account of the Reimagine Descriptive Workflows project, begun in June 2021 by OCLC in partnership with Shift Collective and an advisory group of community leaders, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Proffitt urged participants to center their efforts on the human experience—acknowledging multiple communities as equal stakeholders and shifting the values of the culture of cataloging, but at the same time slowing down and taking the time necessary to learn, examine, engage, and take apart received notions. She also encouraged participants to play the long game, pressing forward through institutional resistance while being mindful of shared human flaws and cultivating a supportive and resilient network of diverse people working toward DEI goals.

B.M. Watson ("Minoritized Vocabularies and Metadata Collectives") posed a question to participants who work with metadata: "Whose and what histories are we describing?" There followed not so much an answer as a challenge, a guiding statement of future purpose: "Knowledge organization rooted wholly in a philosophy advocated, promulgated, and sponsored by white, European, bourgeois, Christian, cisgender, citizen, heterosexual, able-bodied, allosexual, monogamous, men settlers (WEB3CH2A2MS) is not desirable, possible, or sustainable." 

Watson urged participants to move their metadata work towards equity by consulting multiple, alternative vocabularies or classifications wherever available (e.g., Homosaurus); practicing cultural competence when working with historical identities, items, or groups; reaching out ethically when working with identities, items, or groups of living people; embracing trickster practices vis-à-vis cataloging within a dominant classification system, including alteration, subversion, extension, and replacement; and consulting with the people being described (e.g., the Name Change Policy Working Group).

Issues, topics, and observations that surfaced during the subsequent question-and-answer and discussion period included: 

  • Catalog records are documents, but they change (and must change) over time.
  • Retain cataloging history in records, but do not necessarily display it to all who may view the records.
  • Employ content warnings or consider blurring offensive terms.
  • Many systems, or significant parts of them, are built on the premise that cataloging is complete, received as is, and changing or updating is unnecessary.
  • Those committed to DEIA in metadata work should foster channels of communication between users and libraries.
  • Imagine/develop a new type of alternative subject term that has built-in contextual, historical, or advisory elements.

DEIA to Support Accessibility

November 15, 2021

Speaker: George Kerscher (DAISY Consortium, International Digital Publishing Forum, and Benetech)

Moderators: Michael Johnson (Benetech), Gabi Rundle (Emerald Publishing)

George Kerscher’s presentation, “The Importance of Accessibility Metadata,” began with an overview of the relationships among the movements for DEI, for accessibility for people with disabilities, and for recognition of the accessibility needs of neurodiverse people and their inclusion in the overall DEIA movement. He stated that digital publications can and should be born accessible, offering a great reading experience with eyes, ears, and fingers. This benefits everyone, making it easier to personalize the reading experience with visual adjustments, text-to-speech and speech-to-text, and other features. Kerscher reminded participants that the EPUB/EPUB3 format was designed with accessibility in mind and includes metadata requirements for discoverability by all.

Kerscher emphasized that even publications that look good need to have the right metadata to make them accessible, reminding participants that, for example, images of text are not accessible to assistive technology. Important features that can be described with accessibility metadata include accessible typography for dyslexic readers; screen-reader friendliness; freedom from accessibility hazards (e.g., flashing, motion simulation, loud sounds); conformance to standards, certification of conformance, and certifier credentials; and an accessibility summary describing in human-readable narrative form the overall accessibility of the publication. He noted that accessibility metadata is trustworthy because the community has come together to create the best practices and tools to establish accepted implementations that can verify the accessibility of publications. Examples of tools developed through the DAISY Consortium include the Accessibility Checker for EPUB (ACE by DAISY), the DAISY Knowledge Base, and the Simple Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool (SMART by DAISY). Likewise, Global Certified Accessible (GCA), a service to publishers offered by Benetech, certifies that an entire publishing workflow consistently produces accessible publications in EPUB format.

Kerscher cautioned that as important as accessibility metadata is, its technical complexity can hinder wider adoption if ordinary users cannot readily understand what it means for real user interfaces. The User Experience Guide for Displaying Accessibility Metadata is designed to make accessibility metadata user-friendly. Ultimately, readers and librarians rely on a chain of trusted partners in the publishing industry whose certifications, training, and standards ensure that accessibility needs are seamlessly met for all. 

Metadata to Support Indigenous Knowledge and Non-Traditional Outputs

December 6, 2021

Speakers: Stacy Allison-Cassin (University of Toronto), Melissa Stoner (University of California – Berkeley)

Moderator: Camille Callison (University of the Fraser Valley)

Stacy Allison-Cassin (“Perspectives on Indigenous Metadata”) began by showing how colonialism is not merely a historical phenomenon of the past but a malign force still at work in the present. She emphasized that the task of anyone working with metadata related to Indigenous people is to understand that fixing outdated terminology is not enough. One must also perceive how knowledge organization functions ideologically and reflects the characteristics of its creators and managers. Terms need to be correctly rendered in English (e.g., using spellings and forms approved by the groups concerned) and should acknowledge rather than conceal history (including genocide), while still accurately reflecting the present-day lived reality of Indigenous communities. Library and information science professionals maintaining authority files should use the names of individuals and groups that they themselves use, providing a rich network of entry points through variant forms and links to subjects perceived as related within an Indigenous worldview that may be radically different from Eurocentric knowledge schemas. Allison-Cassin stated that all of this effort is made with the intention to “increase the visibility of Indigenous cultures, peoples, and knowledges through the use of rich metadata/semantic data and make that data freely available.”

Further efforts, she said, should encourage the use of Indigenous languages, not just in items in collections/holdings, but in descriptions and metadata.  The FAIR principles for data management and stewardship (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) should be supplemented by the CARE principles for Indigenous data governance:  Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics. The richer the information contained in the metadata (e.g., gender expression, community connections), the more useful it will be for access by anyone and the more likely to reverse historical marginalization.

Melissa Stoner (“Metadata: An Indigenous Perspective”) guided participants in reflecting on how Indigenous knowledge is valued in existing, widely used classification systems and considering how newer systems can incorporate different ways of describing and categorizing. She stated that information professionals working with existing systems can recognize how those systems have a colonialist basis and work to avoid harmful subject headings; make systems more open and generous in description and linking; and use the power they have (more than they might think!) to foster respect for Indigenous knowledge.

Issues, topics, and observations that surfaced during the subsequent question-and-answer and discussion period included:

  • Should problematic subject headings/terminology be maintained in some manner as a reflection of the history of a classification system or the discipline(s) it describes? (All acknowledged it to be a complicated issue.)
  • It is important to be aware (and to remind ourselves regularly) that ideologies of one kind or another underpin classification systems and to continually question and reexamine our assumptions about anything we are classifying, describing, or assigning metadata for.
  • Absolute neutrality and universality in a descriptive system may be unattainable or even undesirable. One must also consider power relations and their role: There is always an impact on the things and people described.
  • Name authority work is complicated: There are often disagreements among authoritative sources of knowledge and information. We should focus on the work itself and the communities served.
  • Try to avoid building siloes when working on descriptive systems. It’s possible that a system that seems to work very well could be closed off to those seeking knowledge from a different perspective.
  • Visibility of the work of knowledge construction and organization is important. Professionals and knowledge seekers alike should be aware of the role that language can and does play in upholding unjust power structures. “Knowers” have a special responsibility to consider ethical dimensions and should make knowledge structures visible instead of trying to hide them or make them less obtrusive.