I was initially very anxious about metadata and the issue of representing material digitally in away that is very conscious of the goal of the SCL. In so my approach to each object was somewhat slow and cautious, but a method that I honestly believed served me well. I began by reading the object for the most relevant content and attempting to understand the purpose and message of said object. After that I began filling the basic tabs of title, creator, date and type. Once those were finished I would brainstorm both subject terms and a description which I would edit after a second rereading of the item. In so the decisions I was making were ones I now feel comfortable with as there was also a continuous return to the vocabulary terms we generated as a group. If I had to estimate a time frame for each object I would say it was anywhere from 30-45 minutes. There were definitely a couple of materials that I was a bit apprehensive about and reviewed multiple times in an attempt to ensure that I had done the information it contained justice. I attempted to stays as accurate and close to the text as I could, but overall I reviewed the materials all on separate occasions and as a class made alterations based on the consensus on the vocabulary. The items without a title were simply given a brief description regarding type, prevailing topic and creator. I personally found each and everyone of the readings to be helpful as many of them placed Watts in the necessary context that would permit us to approach this project with a certain degree of awareness. In addition to those I found the articles discussing Digital Humanities and counter histories very impactful as well as the combination ultimately spoke to the project we are attempting to lay foundations for.
1. I found the metadata creation portion of this project to be a mostly straightforward task that did not take up too much time. When approaching an item, I put in a title of the largest print phrase at the top of the item. Sometimes this was a clear headline, like for a newspaper article (“How Hot is Watts?), but at times that was just the letterhead of the group publishing or sharing the item (“Committee for the Defense of Philip Bentley Brooks”). In writing a description for an item, I tried to summarize the overall purpose and message and mention as many individual subtopics that were listed as possible. With regards to subject terms, two parts of that process were helpful and necessary in generating consistent subject terms across all of our work. We brainstormed different subject terms on a shared spreadsheet and then reviewed them. Then, after filling out descriptions and titles and applying subject terms to items in our individual excel sheets (which served as rough drafts before we uploaded our metadata to Omeka), we reviewed the items we labeled and edited them together. This was really helpful in establishing a uniform methodology with different items. Generating and accurately, concisely applying subject terms was the most difficult part of this process, but the method of group editing made them much more clear and focused.
As for the readings in the class, I found the excerpt from Tagging: People-powered Metadata for the Social Web to be excellent context for the immediate actions of the metadata creation process. The articles from Saidiya Hartman and Safiya Coleman were extremely helpful for establishing the importance of archives and especially digital archives in the face of the silencing of counternarratives in the age of Google and throughout history. Gerald Horne’s The Fire This Time was immensely important for understanding the context and details of Watts 1965. James Baldwin and Ta-nehisi Coates’s works, the most impactful works in the course for me, were important for placing the Digital Watts project within the black community in America’s larger struggles for authentic representation and self-identity within an Anglocentric mainstream culture. For me, this last piece helped bring perspective to the ultimate goal of shifting public perceptions about Watts and other black communities in some minute way.
2. Tagging is a process by which users can provide more information or feedback regarding a digital item which makes it searchable or connected to other digital items with a tag, much like a #hashtag on Twitter. Tags by public users most often provide descriptions of what the item is about or what it relates to (events, places, topics, etc.). The benefits of this system are that it provides users the power and freedom to mark, label, and connect items within the archive, much like retweeting, reposting, or commenting on an item on Twitter or Facebook. This can create an engaged conversation among users about digital archive items and how they relate to our world today. The drawback of this functionality is that there are no established limits or methodology to guide users in how they tag items. Open tagging among users can sometimes lead to a glut of metadata that is less than useful, overly general, or misleading for other users. In reviewing other platforms with open-to-all-users tagging like Nines.org, an online database for nineteenth century scholarship, we noticed that tags were sometimes overly general (“England”) or cryptic (“cruikshank”), which could sometimes lead to cluttered design and confusion on the part of a user trying to navigate items on the site. In opening up the archive to tagging, the SCL can absolutely advance its mission of giving the community access to archival texts and a means to organize and analyze items, and make this archive more relevant to their own experience. The SCL should just weigh the exciting possibilities for further engagement with the community against the ways in which open source programming design like this can make for a messier interface for users. Of course, as with any kind of community engagement, the messiness is often an essential part of the process when facilitating authentic communications amongst a large group of people.
One system we read about that I think could work for the SCL’s digital archive is the combination of these user-generated tags and administrator-generated controlled vocabularies. The subject headings we developed through group brainstorming and peer review (which in this case can be considered a “controlled vocabulary” because they were vetted by a group) can stand alone as ways to guide content (examples include: ‘Los Angeles Police Department” and “Community Engagement”), but users can also add their own tags, which offers a way for them to organize and structure content on the website that makes the most sense to them. This way, users of the site can navigate items via subject headings developed by staff or volunteers in a controlled environment, a generally more tidy, clear system, or tags created by users, which can be more representative of the vernacular or interests of a larger set of public users.
With the goals of the Southern California Library in mind, the metadata process was largely based on accessibility. The question which underpinned the choices when it came to metadata like subject terms and description was: How can I make this “findable” for both researchers and community members?
The process of generating metadata for these digital objects was one that I found especially challenging. It was not the actual labor of it so much as the sensitivity and precision I tried to bring to this process, which was tempered by the knowledge that this material was someone’s property. By property, I mean much more than simply having physical custody of the object: these documents are the sum total of a community’s history, a record of violence acted upon them, upon their bodies, and being asked to extrapolate from that history “subject terms” or “descriptions” was a process with which I struggled throughout this class. With that in mind, perhaps my process is not one that should necessarily be emulated — perhaps it was too cautious or mentally laborious to be of much use. However, I do think that offering a multitude of approaches to working with this material might potentially benefit the SCL or at the very least that is my hope in detailing my process here.
The most challenging part of this course was the constant and necessary awareness of my impact upon the object, that my own understanding of them would provide that vision to those who would read my descriptions, subject terms, and who was decided upon as a source versus a contributor. With this awareness of my impact, I believe it made the job both easier and more difficult: the ease came from my assurance of being able to use the language of the objects themselves to describe them; the difficulty came with narrowing that language down to subject terms. And so in terms of my generating the metadata as quickly and succinctly as possible, here is my method:
Please answers both questions below:
1.) The work you are doing on the Digital Watts Project is first and foremost for the Southern California Library. With that in mind, please explain your metadata creation process. In other words, give the library insight into what it takes to do what you did so they may learn from your efforts. Answer questions like: What order did you do things in? How did you decide on titles if the artifact did not already have one? What are your thoughts on the creation and application of subject terms? How much time did it take? How do you know you are done describing an object? What was the most difficult part of the process? Also, please make sure to share which of the class readings where most helpful—be they readings about classification, readings about Watts, etc.—and explain why they were helpful.
We are making the ethical choices of describing material in a way that is not only findable, but somewhat disassociating it from the narrative that was and continues to be associated with Watts ’65. As with anyone making decisions on the the manner in which something is classified there is no way in which to not be subjective and this is largely where the ethical questions come in. We must ensure that we do not encode the material in a way that is counterproductive to goal of the library. We can only strive to be very conscious that what we are doing is indeed placing an opinion or connotation on a work or material that will be made available to others and which will coincidentally be read a certain way because of how it has been labeled. This level of responsibility is daunting and I believe none of us what to misrepresent the community for which this material is largely being sourced for or perpetuate the negative and inaccurate narrative that is displayed in some of these works. An issue I run into then is describing the material that is an inaccurate or highly biased representation for how do I list what it is (for example an article describing Watts 65 as a senseless riot) without perpetuating that narrative? I sometimes feel as if a disclaimer is necessary and maybe tags could be implemented in this way.
Remarkably for such a central part of our lives, we stand for the most part in formal ignorance of the social and moral order created by these invisible, potent entities. Their impact is indisputable, and as Foucault reminds us, inescapable…Each standard and each category valorizes some point of view and silences another. This is not a bad thing—indeed it is inescapable. But it is an ethical choice, and as such it is dangerous—not bad but dangerous.
What kind of ethical choices are we making and/or what kind of ethical questions should we be asking ourselves?
The importance of ethics when undertaking the responsibility of classification cannot be overstated. In considering this responsibility I am reminded of research I did on Native American author, Mourning Dove and her novel Cogewea: The Half Blood. At one point Mourning Dove was considered the first Native American Woman author, however, much of the scholarship revolving around her and her novel is centered on a man named Lucullus McWhorter. McWhorter was an anthropologist interested in Native American culture and history. He met Mourning Dove at a local event and the two developed a correspondence about her writing and McWhorter later became the editor of her novel. However, the two had different ideas about the story her novel would tell. While Mourning Dove had the intentions of writing a “western romance,” McWhorter was intent on selling the novel as a text about the Native American experience. Against her will, McWhorter pushed an “authentic looking” Native American depiction of Mourning Dove on the cover, added epitaphs before each chapter, and more. In all my research on the text , I would say the most frequently cited quote is Mourning Dove’s statement in a letter to McWhorter:
After only a little bit of time with the metadata of the materials, but with more time actually handling the materials while in Critical Methodologies last year, I find that it has become easier to provide tags to pieces of the material due to their correlation. With more experience with the materials and more reading of the materials I know the story of Watts in order to better see the connections between the pieces which then build or tell a more coherent narrative of the events of and leading up to 1965. With this in mind I know that reading the Gerald Horne text, along with viewing things like the documentary of Watts helped in my being better able to approach the material confidently. Last year when creating the metadata for an object, it was daunting to attempt to claim a voice or a stance to speak from for the materials, the people who wrote them, or the people who participated in the events. But with a broader (not deeper) knowledge of the events I thought more as a historian being able to weave the pieces together to create a more cohesive narrative, one that even if I was not a part of, I knew well enough to show the highlights of details.