Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery

Reviewed By: Liza Alvarez-Perez, Shiiyu Fujisaka, Tor-Elias Johnson, Michael Nicoloff, Adilene Rogers

Link to article: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/10425

Core Questions and Methods:
In their article “Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery,” Sadler and Bourg (2015) analyze scholarly research and commentary in the field of digital technology with respect to Shaowen Bardzell’s principles of feminist software interaction. Central in the discussion is the technological aspects of library discovery, which the authors define as the means by which “users search, explore, find, and interact with the information resources they need, particularly collections held by a library” and can encompass “search algorithms, library software, and online collections” (Sadler & Bourg, 2015, para. 3). The authors question the valuing of an idealized neutrality or objectivity in the design of digital systems and the corresponding devaluing of emotional and social consequences for users.
Sadler and Bourg (2015) review many of the biases in libraries and their classification systems, and when speaking of pluralism and self-disclosure in search they expose the shortfalls of the use of majority-rule as a definition of neutrality and present us with idea of neutral relevance as an oxymoron. The acute issue of sexism is addressed when speaking of the world of open software and participation in the production of technology, and how the notion of the need to recruit gender minorities and women might serve to reinforce the false narrative that they are not naturally inclined to such fields is a relevant observation. The authors lastly speak of embodiment in library interactions referring to the accessibility and usability of software.

Findings and Conclusions:
While we may think that search engines such as Google give us “neutral” search results, the article explains how the lack of pluralism and self-disclosure only gives us an illusion of neutrality. In order for search software to be neutral, there needs to be a particular concern with pluralism and self-disclosure so that it can yield results with more relevancy and significance. The way that Google has their algorithm now, for example, works by defining relevancy and significance by looking at what pages are linked most often when a certain subject is given. This leads to a functionality in which only the most clicked on pages are those that we see which often leads to catastrophic results. In this “majority rules” type of searching, it can be difficult to find information, especially for women and people of color as they do not make up the majority of users. Sadler and Bourg (2015) stress that libraries must keep these limitations in mind when educating the public about search neutrality and the rigid categorizing systems that are in place.
In discussing the production of library technology, Sadler and Bourg (2015) hypothesize that the environment in which software is created has an effect on the social nature of that software, once released to the wild. They write of “the open source software community [being] a notoriously sexist space,” and that the lack of women in these spaces is explained away by a rationale stating that women are “techno-phobic” while men are “techno-eager” (Sadler & Bourg, 2015, para. 16). Women, it is said, “are not naturally interested in technology and must be persuaded to participate” (Sadler & Bourg, 2015, para. 18). The authors level criticism at this narrative, the most obvious of which is the fact that there are multiple factors working against females wishing to work in tech. Hostility toward and harassment of women in the open-source coding environment is a primary factor pushing women away from software development, because it is a pursuit around which they have experienced trauma, not something they are incapable or fearful of doing. Consequently, there is a profound waste of talent from many technically skilled people who could make innovative contributions in the development of library software, but are denied the chance to do so for lack of fair compensation and a safe working environment.
Sadler and Bourg’s (2015) discussion of advocacy and embodiment in library interactions makes for provocative reading, even as it remains rather speculative at times. The notion of designing both physical libraries and digital information access systems for the range of human ability and physicality is firmly embedded in the discourse on library diversity. Sadler and Bourg advocate strongly for taking a user-centered approach in defining improvements and implementing them well, and extend this discussion of embodiment further to uncover other implicit biases embedded in library practice, particularly with regards to digitization. They cite an interview with the innovative historian Natalie Zemon Davis in which Davis discusses “the specific emotional connection she feels when touching physical artifacts, like books” (Sadler & Bourg, 2015, para. 22). Sadler and Bourg speculate that in the rush to digitize materials, librarians may eliminate the possibility of a medium-specific emotional response. Such a response is often deemed ancillary and unimportant to the process of engaging with a book or other object, but the authors point out that such an assumption reveals an implicit bias towards “thinking” and against “feeling.” This dichotomy proves to be artificial; Sadler and Bourg point out that we make choices as much with our emotional responses as with “rationality,” noting that “studies of people who have been truly divorced of their emotions on a neurological level…[show that they] become unable to make even simple decisions” (2015, para. 24). We can see, then, the ways that a classic feminist critique applies fully to HCI’s potential downplaying or elimination of emotional responses from the field of intellectual consideration, which in turn may foreclose discovery and production of certain forms of embodied knowledge as well as possibly mute the urge for advocacy that such embodied knowledge may provoke.

Unanswered Questions
Sadler and Bourg’s (2015) points about embodied knowledge and advocacy are well taken, and they are correct to raise concerns about the change in scholarship and knowledge production that might occur with digitization. That said, the concerns they raise would have benefited from a longer and more concrete discussion of how embodiment might be compensated for in the physical-to-digital transition. Their critique also falters due to implicit assumptions regarding the disembodying nature of digital media. The subjective emotional associations that Davis (the only direct source cited in their discussion) has with physical books cannot be universalized, and with a lack of cited evidence on the supposedly embodiment-alienating nature of digital materials, it is unclear whether digital materials can provoke embodied emotional responses just as easily as print materials. It does not appear that Sadler and Bourg would directly deny this given their goal maintaining space for emotional responses in digital archives, but the latter goal lies in tension with the argument expressed in the discussion of the interview with Davis. As a result, we left with a very incomplete picture of what, if anything, might be lost in the transition to digital formats and how to compensate for such a loss if it occurs.
Other questions arising from the paper are the ongoing search for solutions to the problems of inequity addressed by the authors. After highlighting the glaring flaws in library scholarship on the topic of search algorithms and subject categorization, they fall short of providing satisfactory options of recognizing biases and applying adequate feminist principles. Unfortunately, they only offer the dismissive and unrealistic idea of librarians and users serving to data mine information as the only option to combating commercial bias. Further research about the manipulation of supposed majority-rule results with the use of tactics such as Google bombs and those who control the majority would help to clarify just where and why search bias is created. And while the authors provide a clear delineation of social pressures preventing women from equitable participation in software development, future research about how poverty and disability can also impede other groups in the participation of technology creation would be of pertinent interest to the argument of bias in the technology production ecology. Finally, the conclusions that libraries and librarians can further support feminist research and agenda by not being neutral is a vague and conflicting suggestion with little direction for a more inclusive and optimal library of the future with less bias.

Final Thoughts
In applying feminist theory to the design, production, implementation, and use of digital systems in the library environment, Sadler and Bourg (2015) overturn the notion of digital neutrality and illuminate the emotionally and socially relevant nature of technology. Despite potentially dubious claims on the emotional risks of digitization, and a failure to propose improvements to the problems of bias in search algorithms and gender inequality in software development, the authors make a significant contribution in library scholarship by providing a model for feminist analysis of new technological developments. While the article may ultimately raise more questions than it answers, the questions themselves are important for continual evaluation of modern library practices.

Reference List
Sadler, B., & Bourg, C. (2015). Feminism and the future of library discovery. Code{4}lib, 28. Retrieved from http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/10425

Places for all? Cape Town’s public library services to gays and lesbians

Reviewed By: Brianna Anderson, Jennifer Mays, Julie Smith, Michael Vinyard

Link to article: https://doaj.org/article/4d9eab3dcad54d41849d504a8aafb9df

Synopsis and Research Questions

Hart and Mfazo (2010) found that most of the research and literature on public library service for the LGBT community was done in North America. Because South Africa has a history of struggling to overcome discrimination, the authors saw the need for research on the topic specific to this geographic area. They also found that the LGBT community tended to be overlooked as a minority group with specific needs. Their goals were to determine librarians’ awareness of information needs and how well libraries met those needs.

The research project had three distinct questions. The first was whether or not gay and lesbian library users should be considered a special user group with particular information and reading needs. Second, they wanted to know if public library staff were aware of the human rights issues surrounding services to the LGBT community. Lastly, they wanted to know if the public libraries in South Africa were providing for the special needs of the LGBT community through their collections and information services.


To help answer the first research question, the authors performed a literature review. Answering the remaining two questions involved looking at the collection development policy for the library system and conducting a survey composed of four sections administered to the main librarian responsible for branch collection development at each branch.

The first three survey segments included personal information about the respondent, professional details regarding awareness of the collection development policy and criteria used to make selections, and questions regarding information services. In the fourth segment, the Likert scale was used to help the authors examine the personal views of librarians regarding the provision of resources and services to the LGBT community and how these views may impact library service.

Findings and Conclusions

While the authors concluded from their literature review that the “professional, philosophical and research literature” (Hart & Mfazo, 2010, p. 106) considers gays and lesbians a special user group, the survey of 69 Cape Town librarians revealed that only 55% “consciously consider” (p.103) this group when developing their collections.  Even though 79% agree that access for the gay and lesbian community is a human rights issue and 91.5% are aware of policies that mandate a diverse collection, only 29% of librarians who responded agree that an explicit statement should be made in the policy for this user group.  Thus, the authors concluded that overall, the librarians do not consider gays and lesbians a special user group.

The authors describe the findings on how Cape Town libraries meet the needs of gays and lesbians as “spotty” and suggest “librarians’ prejudices might affect services to LGBT people” (Hart & Mfazo, 2010, p. 107). Opinion regarding the provision of services was dependent on size and location of the library.  Only 15% of librarians agreed that the needs of gays and lesbians are met at the city and regional libraries, but 33% of community librarians believed they were meeting needs.  Services were provided in some locations but not the majority, and in many categories, the number of libraries that practice inclusion of gays and lesbians in their regular services is woefully inadequate.  Only 6 of the 69 responding librarians stated that they have community information and pamphlet files for gays and lesbians while 55% of those that have display boards dedicate space to gay and lesbian information.  Librarians in charge of collection development even admit to rejecting LGBT literature based on the perception that it is pornographic. The actual purchase of LGBT books averaged less than one per year and only three librarians reported subscribing to an LGBT magazine or newsletter.  Half of the librarians did not buy any materials for LGBT patrons and 23 of the librarians either could not or would not answer the question, which is contrary to how the librarians said they consider gays and lesbians in collection development.  Their acknowledgement of collection policy did not translate to purchasing decisions. Finally, only 20 librarians reported being approached with LGBT related questions within the last year but due to inadequate study design, the authors could not conclude whether the librarians were able to adequately help those patrons.  The low number of queries may be due to librarians’ lack of awareness of gay and lesbian information needs and the perception by gays and lesbians that librarians are not aware of their needs.

Questions and Future Research

There are a number of areas where future research will be necessary to have a more complete picture of the needs of LGBT patrons in Cape Town and whether those needs are being met. Hart and Mfazo (2010) state that, as a public service and embodying the South African Constitution, libraries should provide “service impartially, fairly, equitably, and without bias” (p. 99). Yet, as the study shows, these are not being provided. The survey showed that the librarians in the Cape Town Library System are self-censoring LGBT items from the library by not buying them, seeking them out, or displaying information regarding the LGBT community. This leads to one of the biggest questions: How can Cape Town, and similar libraries, use this information to change their systems to create an equitable LGBT collection that integrates and displays that collection alongside the existing one?

One of the biggest omissions in the research is on the LGBT community itself. The research conducted is merely on the library system serving this community with very little information about the LGBT community. It would be helpful to know what the LGBT community thinks about the Cape Town Library System’s collection and if they think it is pertinent or helpful to them. How do they view the library and librarians? Do they feel their information needs are being met?

This leads to another area that may need future research: what kinds of information does this community seek and are they finding what they need? An answer to this would help close the gap in the library services. The information that Hart and Mfazo (2010) present is a bit vague in regards to which kinds of materials and literature are in demand. Are these fiction, non-fiction, periodicals? It would be interesting to research what information and materials are physically on the shelf, instead of relying on the answers in a survey. In addition, for the libraries that do include LGBT materials, it would be beneficial to know where they are finding these materials and if these vendors could be put on the list of provincial selectors. Currently, many of the libraries in Cape Town are buying less than one LGBT book a year but the study couldn’t conclusively pinpoint as to why this is the case except to say that it was the librarians’ choice. Are there other factors involved besides possible self-censoring by librarians? One librarian commented that “the Provincial library provides material but no-one has ever suggested buying specifically for the gay community from COCT [City of Cape Town]” (Hart and Mfazo, 2010, p. 105). Perhaps this is a system-wide issue and not just a problem in branch libraries. Finally, this study focused on gays and lesbians, but the LGBTQ+ community is a broad of spectrum of people and further investigation on the variety of needs is warranted.


Unfortunately, Hart and Mfazo’s research showed that there is a definite gap in public library services to the LGBT communities of Cape Town. The library system has a lot of work to do to provide equitable services to their LGBT community. A review of library collection development policies may warrant the addition of purchasing and service considerations for this specific community. Librarians and staff would benefit from professional development and diversity training. This training would enable librarians and staff to better understand the need for information services for all people, as mandated by the South African Constitution.

Hart, G. and Mfazo, N. (2010). Places for all? Cape Town’s public library services to gays and lesbians. South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, 76(2), 98-108. DOI: 10.7553/76-2-73

Legislation Without Empathy: Race and Ethnicity in LIS

Reviewed By: Christopher Diaz and Allison Hostler

Link to article: https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/download/3565/3649

Article Review

In the article, Legislation Without Empathy: Race and Ethnicity in LIS, Visconti examines the current status of diversity in the field of librarianship. Specifically he claims that ethnic and racial diversity is an “unresolved diversity issue in LIS,” acknowledging the concentration of the article on race rather than on the diversity of gender or sexual orientation in the library workplace.

The article begins with Visconti recounting a recent library leadership course that he took in which a slide show was presented that discussed “myths” about leadership in the library. During the lecture one slide in particular caught Visconti’s attention. The slide claimed that the idea that one has to be an old white male in order to obtain a leadership role in the library, was a myth. Visconti argues that this may in fact, not be a myth.

Visconti continues by remarking how there has been no growth in the diversity of library professionals in the past two decades. This is attributed to a “disconnect between official policy and our everyday practices.” Essentially, Visconti is stating that although many of our official institutions such as the ALA, have it in writing that their goal is to embrace and enhance a diverse workplace, the field of librarianship is not actually acting on this ideal.

In order to show the lack of growth within the field, Visconti used statistical data from the ALA from the 1990’s and compared it to recent data. The statistics he found supported his claim that there has been no growth in the diversity in the field of librarianship. The statistics also revealed just how unbalanced the diversity is. While African Americans and Hispanics make up 40% of the population, these groups don’t even make up 10% of librarians.

Visconti expands in this idea by noting the difference between diversity and inclusion. The author claims that although the institution of libraries has hired people of color, they are simply meeting a quota because they are not practicing inclusion. Inclusion, to Visconti, includes actually assimilating everything that comes along with adding people of color instead of forcing those people of color to conform to the sustained and officiated “whiteness,” of the profession.

Microaggressions against people of color in the library workforce is also talked about in the article. Visconti notes studies that show people of color are often the target of such aggressions while their White counterparts are not. He continues by noticing that there is specific lack of study on the subject of racism in the library which could be considered racist in itself.

Visconti concludes by noting how librarians always strive to provide services to a diverse patronage but fail to include diversity within their own profession. The author call out for an increase in inclusion and for a more diverse profession.

Article Expansion

Visconti does an excellent job of providing facts and evidence of issues regarding diversity and inclusion in library environments. His article clearly describes the issues in the LIS profession but what the article lacks is a possible solution to the problem. The library must be an environment that makes all feel safe and respected, both patrons and staff, and in order to successfully provide services to the community. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination are not issues that can be solved quickly or even easily. Instead, these issues should be part of a long term goal that the library community is constantly and actively striving towards. Moving forward, we would like to expand this article to explore possible solutions to these issues to further promote diversity in all areas in the library profession.

Possible Solutions

After reading this article it is clear that something must be done in order to assist in eliminating racism and discrimination in the library environment for both patrons and staff. In his conclusion, Visconti mentions the possibility for LIS students to take a course in library diversity during their programs in order to be more cognisant of problems in the area of diversity and inclusion. He also mentions that although some programs offer these courses, students aren’t always taking them as they are offered as electives only. Perhaps these courses should be considered a required course rather than an elective. This way, LIS programs are ensuring that their students are being educated in the subject areas of diversity and inclusion in the library.

Another way in which diversity can be supported through the library community is through programming. Culturally diverse programming could be offered through the library’s services. These events could be centered around a holiday or simply to raise awareness. Programs could also be centered around books, movies, or other materials that feature themes of diversity. Programs that already established in the library, such as story time or art activities, could incorporate diversity into their programs. Patrons could take part in these events and directly benefit from them while library staff would benefit through means of supporting the program and its participants.

Information Behavior of Migrant Hispanic Farm Workers and Their Families in the Pacific Northwest

Reviewed By: Julieta Garcia, Cassandra Swartzwelder, Alexis Harmor, and Ysied Gillette

Link to article: http://www.informationr.net/ir/10-1/paper199.html

Article Synopsis & Core Research Question(s)
Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, and Cunningham’s (2004) article explores the everyday information behavior of migrant Hispanic farm workers and their families in Central Washington State’s Yakima Valley. Despite Yakima Valley’s rich and successful agricultural production, along with its many assets such as high education, hospitals, & museums; it’s also an economically distraught city with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Yakima is a multiracial and multicultural city with three predominant groups, the Native American Yakama Tribe, Hispanics, and Caucasians. These three distinct and very polarized ethnic groups, constantly compete for resources, and most of all at the low end of the socioeconomic scale. The Hispanic population ranges from 4th generation farm migrant workers that speak English and hold some education to new arrival farm workers that possess the little education and are non-English speakers. The authors wanted to understand how this community of mostly Spanish speaking people get their information and how do they do it. The study took place in and around the two Community Technology Centers (CTCs), where members of the community can come and take classes, get information, and find assistance. Both CTCs (12,000 base clients) consist of a room with 25 computers open six days a week for classes and personal use. The study was guided by three core research questions:
1) What role does interpersonal information-seeking play in the lives of migrant Hispanic farm workers and their families?
2) What are the information grounds of these workers and their families?
3) For what types of situations do these farm workers share information using what media?
The authors of this Yakima Valley exploratory study utilized, in their methodology, used both qualitative and quantitative methods during their field observations at both CTC’S and in the surrounding community. Data collection approaches employed during the study included thirty to sixty minute in-depth interviews with CTC users. These interviews were not recorded because of the University of Washington Human Subject presented concerns regarding this at-risk population, which by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Belmont Report Code of Ethics, emphasizes on a systematic assessment of risks and benefits ration when human subject studies take place. Additional at length interviews were administered to staff and administrators. All interviews and questionnaires were provided in the primary language (or language of proficiency) of the subject. Bilingual questionnaires contained verbatim questions as those presented in the user interviews, and a sign-up sheet for participants to indicate their reasons for using the CTC. Data collection and analysis by the authors included the interviews or surveys of fifty-one CTC users and eight CTC staff. Collected demographics for the studied population indicated that most users were between seventeen and thirty years of age, 57% were male, 58% had jobs in agriculture, and household size is between two to eleven people. Throughout the study, to ensure validity and consistency in data analysis, the authors kept field notes (a record of their observations and contexts as well interacted with participants), method notes (description of their techniques for collecting data), and theory notes (documentation of ideas and connections with the study’s theoretical frameworks, and other phenomena) (Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, & Cunningham, 2004).
Findings & Conclusions
The study’s data analysis was consistent with the authors’ expected results. These anticipated results included the participants’ vacillation to participate due to their immigration status. Other findings also demonstrated that participants were hesitant to ask for information at the usual places like libraries or other information centers because of language barriers and lack of trust. Furthermore, the study showed that “immigrant and migrant farm workers may engage in the form of ‘interpersonal source berrypicking’” (Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, & Cunningham, 2004). Unlike most people who only spend a short time on searching for information, immigrants wait for the source to come to them, which can last a lifetime. This study proves that immigrant and migrant workers seek information from trusted interpersonal sources such as family, friends, & other trusted sources in barbershops and hair salons, food banks, co-workers, and church officials. Many of the participants that used the CTCs to find information centered on job finding, income support, ESL, GED, translation help, recreational information, computer help, etc.
The transitory migratory patterns and immigration status of the migrant farm worker population makes it notoriously difficult to study this community. Their collective reluctance to participate in studies, censuses, or any activity that collects their personal data or demographics is usually unwelcome as it could jeopardize their work/status. The authors further found that language is a huge problem for immigrant families, especially when documents and information portals are only written in English. Many families will consult or utilize their children, who have become familiarized with English, to translate and will eventually become their family’s main source of information. The utilization of children as translators and major sources of information drastically change the parent/child dynamic by placing the child in an adult role, often taking care of adult responsibilities such as cashing checks. Immigrants also turn to media for information. Spanish-speaking radio and television stations that serve the migrant community play a significant role in providing immigrants with information. The only Spanish radio station (KDNA 91.9FM) is housed with one of the CTC in the area with 60,000 listeners.
Unanswered Questions & Further Research
The authors recognize the need for future research concerning the differences between information grounds and habits of illegal immigrants versus legal immigrants. Several mitigating factors that influence the difference in information patterns and service disconnects, such as the city library or free health care, reside in the low or general lack of language and literacy skills. Also, as earlier stipulated in the study, the ever-present fear of negative employment opportunities or immigration status outweighs their informational needs and therefore avoidance of places where they might have to provide some documentation. Despite the authors’ steps to ensure reliability and validity to this study, their small drawn sampling group of approximately 50 individuals was very low considering its much larger potential of 12,000 people in relation to their population ratio. This significantly lower representation creates concerns about statistical significance and accurate population representation.
Further research in the Yakima Valley could answer what additional barriers exist between the three main groups, their shared resources, and what can be done to facilitate intercultural relationships. It could be argued that because the CTC is a newer provider in comparison to the NCEC that its users did not trust or felt comfortable to participate in the study. Another factor could be that despite Yakima Valley’s twenty plus physical libraries, their actual conditions and service offering are unknown. The Yakima Valley library’s service further comes into doubt when accounting for the area’s persistent low socioeconomic level and the likelihood of not possessing the resources to staff bilingual individuals, staff or volunteers, or house a CTC. The library’s only official information is the one provided by the library’s website, which is English based and a small Spanish collection. Regardless of the multiple reasons, the current extensive collection of post-secondary educational resources, churches, and cultural institutions could be utilized as a bridge to build trusted interconnected relationships between ethnic boundaries and pool resources for all residents.

Fisher, K. E., Marcoux, E. B., Miller, L. S., Sanchez, A., & Cunningham, E. R. (2004).
Information Behavior of Migrant Hispanic Farm Workers and Their Families in the
Pacific Northwest. iRinformationresearch, 10(1). Retrieved from