Catalogers as Authors, Metadata as Annotation

Zine Union Catalog logo: cat paw fist over an open zineLauren and I are proposing a coordinated final project where we will work in parallel, each of our research and analyses benefitting the other, with paired annotation an integral part of the process. Our project will focus on our Zine Union Catalog, which we’ve been working on together since Spring 2017 in the second semester of DH Praxis, taught by Lisa Rhody. We continued through ITP I and II and then Data Visualization this summer.

We are coordinating, rather than directly collaborating for reasons of time. We hope to experiment with the idea of working together in parallel, letting one another’s processes, interests, strengths as researchers and analysts, as well as the feedback we’ll provide one another inform our work.

photo of Lauren Kehoe speaking next to a slide from her presentation.

I am taken with the idea of cataloger as author and how catalog metadata serves as a sort of annotation to an original creator’s work. One of the questions in our presentation at OpenCon NYC made an observation about zines occupying liminal spaces. Her comment prompted my own observation that a holding library’s focus and perhaps staff knowledge and preferences impacts cataloging. One example of an author whose zines are held by both the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) and the Barnard Zine Library, Kate Huh is a long-time friend of QZAP co-founder Milo Miller, who met Huh through Act-Up when they were in college. In Miller’s context, Huh is an AIDS activist. For me, who met Huh through Miller, and lived in the same neighborhood as Huh for many years and also interact with her in NYC area events, Huh is a Lower East Sider. Huh’s zines are slight, comprised primarily of photocollage, and therefore may be challenging to describe for a library or archive catalog. The QZAP records reflect a greater knowledge of Huh the person than does the Barnard Zine Library record. Also, each issue of Rebel Fux is cataloged individually at QZAP, whereas Barnard provides one record for its holdings from the series. Barnard’s record includes a descriptive summary of the zines, and QZAP a scan of the zines themselves.

QZAP catalog record for Rebel Fux by Kate Huh

I intend to do close readings of this and other zines held and described by different libraries and the greater context of these libraries.

I recently served as a consultant for the ABC No Rio Zine Library, which is in the process of building its own Collective Access catalog, Collective Access being the open source digital asset manager (DAM) that QZAP and ZineCat use (the Barnard Zine Library’s holdings are in a Voyager catalog with a Blacklight discovery layer). In discussing zines with the zine librarians there, I was taken with how the different strengths and focuses of our two collections, not to mention the context of a community library vs. that of a liberal arts college affiliated with a research university. At ABC No Rio, there are over 2,000 zines assigned to the category “punk.” Same with “anarchist” and “antiauthoritarian.” ABC No Rio is a renowned music venue that until it went into “exile,” while its new building is constructed, hosted a weekly punk show. Their collection is heavily influenced by anarchism and punk. The Barnard Zine Library also has rich holdings in anarchism and punk, though fewer records, and the Barnard zines largely address women and punk and anarchist communities and riot grrrl. The ABC No Rio director commented in an offhand way that riot grrrl would not be a major category in their catalog, whereas at Barnard, there are nearly 600 records that include that phrase. (Note that Barnard has about half the number of zines that ABC No Rio does.) I noticed a zine that our two libraries have in common, Take back your life : A wimmin’s guide to alternative health care. The Library of Congress Subject Heading assigned by Barnard is Women > Health and hygiene. ABC No Rio had the zine in a broad category like punk. To my memory, ABC No Rio doesn’t have a category for women at all, or for reproductive health, which is an important theme in Barnard zine records.

The primary resources available to us are plentiful, but of course we will want to begin by surveying the secondary literature to see what others have published on cataloging as authorship. I began with a Library Literature search on < catalog AND authorship > that yielded a disappointing 38 results, none of which appears to be about the cataloger as author. Rather many of the articles are about cataloging authorship when it is in doubt. A broader search < catalog* AND authorship > in a broader database, Columbia University’s federated search Find Articles, found more (114,824), but not better results. I then applied four filters to the search: authorship, libraries, information science, and library science (in the order of number of records), getting my results down to 6,098. At a glance the top results aren’t what I’m looking for either. I look forward to seeing what Lauren digs up.

It is also my hope and plan to work with the data visualizations that Lauren and I created this summer in our Intro to Data Viz class taught by Erin Daugherty and Michelle McSweeney. Lauren’s project focused on the keywords in place at QZAP:

red treemap with the terms punk and sex. all the other boxes too small.

where mine examined how zine genre representation in the Barnard Zine Library have changed over time.

tree map of genre terms employed at the banard zine library

The two screenshots above are not interactive, but you can click around them if you go to our project pages. Lauren. Jenna.

What I am most looking forward to in this coordinated final project is playing out the meta nature of what Lauren and I are studying: how our approaches and analyses to the same topic differ. We intend to further entwine our work, that began nearly two years ago, by being active annotators and collaborators on our individual, fraternal twin-type projects.

2 thoughts on “Catalogers as Authors, Metadata as Annotation

  1. Pingback: Zine Union Catalog: Authors and Catalogers as Collaborators | Doing Things with Novels

  2. Very cogent overview of the target you’re aiming at and especially the process you are laying out to get there. The central knot to pick at seems to be how to reduce the teeming, rhizomatic web of material, dispersed among many different locations and organized by different logics, to a common set of metadata. The question of authorship and cataloging seems, to me, to be a subordinate issue within this broader conceptual question. I’d be interested in hearing more about:

    –the theoretical literature on the figure of the “collector” (e.g., Benjamin’s “Unpacking my Library,” his essay on Fuchs, Susan Stewart’s work on the “souvenir”)
    –perhaps a peek at Derrida’s essay on “Archive Fever” and/or Deleuze/Guattari’s intro to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. The latter is a classic of anarchist thinking and would be a fruitful way of thinking about taxonomies and search tools that coexist with the animating spirit of the material they are searching for.
    –more practically, the implicit value systems articulated by existing taxonomies and metadata more broadly. Your proposal already digs into this, so I’d basically just applauding and wanting more
    –perhaps something about “folkonomics” and the possibility of allowing users to feed back into the organizational schema. That approach is messy/risky, but it also seems appropriate to the DIY/punk sensibility of much of this material.

    Go! This looks great and can’t wait to see where y’all take this latest iteration.

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