Bibliocentrism (originally posted 5-24-2009)

My paper for the ethics symposium (see my last post) was called “Bibliocentrism, Cultural Warrant, and the Ethics of Resource Description.” The point of the paper was that the pervasiveness of bibliocentrism constitutes an act of harm against the user-community by preventing Wilsonian exploitation. As usual, I don’t think I said that in my presentation (but I did say that in the paper). My method was case study–I took 3 “biographies” and 4 “nonbooks” and tried to demonstrate the uselessness of title-page transcription for facilitating exploitation. The connection being, of course, that bibliocentrism leads to standards that treat everything like a book (because books are good and nonbooks are nongood) and does even that badly.

I think listeners probably got the idea that I think title-page transcription should be replaced by digital imaging. That’s correct. I do think that. I used Morgan’s FDR as an example, to demonstrate how one could link from the table of contents–say concerning the Newport Incident–to the source list and then directly to the Newport archives where the sources are held. But there is much more, of course.

The ethical issue is that bibliocentrism, like racism or sexism or most ‘isms,” is endemic, and is perpetuated by the participation, tacit or otherwise, of everyone in the resource description community. An ethical response requires first an admission of complicity and then a commitment to change.

I ended the presentation (but not the paper) with an image of Otlet’s “grinder,” simply to demonstrate one possibility for an alternative to a bibliocentric catalog. (Documents go into the grinder to be disassembled into facts, which come out newly synthesized as raw knowledge, classified using UDC. See my new favorite book: European modernism and the information society, ed. by Boyd Rayward, for both the image–the grinder is on the cover–and more explanation.)

But, there is still more. I’ve been working with Jeff Gabel on his citation-chasing project, specifically now on the second phase which uses MDS to analyze co-assignment of LCSH to citation-chased monographs. (I’ll post something specific about this soon, so bear with me.) If this technique were to be employed, it would require systems that have all citations in digital form, and I don’t mean in separate citation indexes. So one very useful thing a non-bibliocentric catalog could do would be link to the digitized citations in everything.

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Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in ethics

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