What about “Citizens”?

Posting to Autocat

On 4/18/2016 7:47 PM, John Gordon Marr wrote:

What was once a game only for the power elite has become a very common game of manipulation in our society in general (e.g. trolling) due to the ubiquity and plasticity of media . That is to say, the way something [a work or a person] describes itself can no longer be assumed to be aboveboard. Quite the contrary, in fact, and it has become wise to encourage people to read between the lines and look for disguised motives.

You asked for some parallels to the introduction of Rep. Black’s bill. Look beyond the specific issue for a moment, and just look for examples of possible intentional deception promoting self-obsession anywhere. All I’m saying is that those possibilities carry much more effective, potentially harmful, weight than any possibilities of candidness.

Subject headings are a form of “advertising.” So we have a problem when we do not tell patrons that certain works may contain manipulative bias, just like advertisements for products do not mention possible negatives. We simply have no way to do it with subject headings, but we do have to recognize the need to do it somehow.

Of course people have hidden motives. Should it be so surprising that there may be a hidden agenda in Rep. Black’s bill? Not to think so is simply naive. Yet, I don’t think that “reading between the lines” is new at all. Read Voltaire, or look at the outrageous self-propaganda written by Caesar in his “Commentary on the Gallic War.” Today, is it “the 1%” or the “job creators”? Neither term can be called “objective” but each is wholly subjective, replete with an entirely different view of the world silently trailing behind it. I could come up with many more examples in various disciplines but I don’t need to. Still, none of this is new in any way.

As catalogers, we need to ensure that when people search for the concept “the 1%” that they will be looking at–more or less–the same results as those who search for “job creators” and vice versa. People will choose to search for either term based on all sorts of personal factors but that is relatively unimportant. More important is that getting radically different search results means that people are locked in a “filter bubble” for this concept. Keyword has the tendency to trap people in these kinds of filter bubbles, but cataloging practices can help to avoid those bubbles.

But all of this is extremely subtle. For the average person (read: administrators) to realize that this is happening, to understand why it is happening, and then to come to the conclusion that it is a serious enough problem that warrants a solution, and that library cataloging (of all things!) may hold that solution, is something that cannot be explained in thirty seconds, the time normally allotted for the so-called “elevator speech” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator_pitch)