About the Search Question
In the context of the Zero Footprint Campus, Read-in focuses on the Utrecht University library. Using the format of Bookshelf_Research, Read-in is interested in the library data system. Read-in asks: What happens when we apply other categories – such as race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, class or physicality – to the library’s search engine? What are the findings, and what do these reveal about inclusion and exclusion mechanisms of our knowledge institutes? And last but not least, how can we address the systems of power of our current Western knowledge economy?
To explore those questions, Read-in developed the following search question to guide their search into the library data system:
How many female non-Western authors and authors of colour are represented in the catalogue of the Utrecht University library?
Approaching this search question, Read-in has engaged in different search movements: – We’ve consulted the public catalogue of the Utrecht University Library – We’ve redefined our search question – We’ve looked at the back ends of the different types of cataloguing systems of the Utrecht University library–We’ve identified MARC21-fields* relevant for our search –
Where do our different search movements lead us? What can we do if our search question yields no direct answers? Which detours can we take to make meaningful statements regarding the distribution of gender and nationality among the authors represented in the catalogue of the Utrecht University library? What knowledges are in- and excluded and what does this reveal about our current knowledge economy?
*MARC21 (abbreviation for MAchine-Readable Cataloguing) is an international standard administered by the Library of Congress; it is a set of digital formats used to describe items that are catalogued.
During the search process, Read-in has reached out to the Utrecht University Library, whose team generously shared their knowledge and greatly supported us with exploring possible approaches to our search question. The Utrecht University Library helped us see the (im)possibilities for the catalogue records of the Utrecht University Library to provide us with a direct answer to our search question. They also helped us identify different search paths that we could take: they pointed out to us that if we were to focus on the authors of the library records, we would have to consult the ‘authority file’, a container of records stored at the Library of Congress that contains specific informations about the authors, such as their gender, nationality, etc. The Utrecht University library doesn’t have the direct access to the back end of this ‘authority file’. However, if we would focus on the ‘bibliographic description’ of a record, such as language or country of publication, they could help us put together a data sheet with a selection of specific records.
Together with software engineer James Bryan Graves and designer Anja Groten (Hackers & Designers), Read-in is diving into a selection of records that the Utrecht University library put together for us. We will explore the question of whether and how our search might change when applying different filters to the library’s search engine.
Throughout June, we will organize different public and nonpublic moments, in which we will share our search process with other practitioners and a broader public. To engage our search more widely, we are asking: Why are the authors of the books I read so white, so male and so Eurocentric?
Come and search with us at:
June 1, 2017: Opening Day Public Programme
June 24, 2017: Unlearning my Library Forum: The Unlearning my Library Forum aims to create a platform to bring together, discuss and exchange on different (artistic) practices, interventions and inquiries around (in)formal libraries and their systems of categorization.