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Bad Dewey

Maria O’Hara (Reading List Services Support Co-Ordinator) outlines why we need to question the existing structures of the Library, namely our classification system -Dewey Decimal – a system used in thousands of libraries across the globe.  

Dewey

1. Melvil Dewey. From The Review of Reviews (1891)

The way information is organised can have a profound and often invisible effect on how we think about, and assign value to, information. Both library users and librarians can assume that, because we have a system, our collections are organised in an impartial, logical way. In fact, classification systems, like the Dewey Decimal System we use here at Goldsmiths, are the creation of flawed individuals. Libraries actually arrange themselves around the dated and often offensive worldviews of old, white Victorian men, and are far from impartial.

To understand how our library is organised, we all need to know a bit more about the man who created the system we use, Melvil Dewey 1. A more famous librarian than Giles from Buffy, Dewey co-founded the American Library association and published the Dewey Decimal Classification System in 1876. In 1884 he founded the first institute for the instruction of librarians and insisted that women be admitted. This all seems very positive until you realise that, he also insisted that female applicants supply photos because ‘you can’t polish a pumpkin’ 2.

By 1905 he had been asked to step down from the American Library Association, amid criticism of his refusal to admit Jewish people to a private members’ club he owned and accusations that he had made unwanted advances on 3 female colleagues during a trip to Alaska 3.

So what system did this anti-Semitic, serial harasser bequeath us? A good place to get to grips with some of Dewey Decimals inherent problems is in the 305s – groups of people 4. First let’s look at some ‘good’ Dewey – age groups.

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At the top level of ‘Age Groups’ you have books that cover multiple generations, and then you have sub-fields for young people, adults and older adults. Sensible, right?

Let’s compare that to ‘People by Gender’. At the top level you have interdisciplinary works on all genders and gender identity. You might expect the subcategories to be men, women and intersex – but no. Instead you have men, more about men and employment of men.

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So where have all the non-men gone? Well it turns out women are just too darn special to classify under ‘People by Gender’. Instead, we’ve got a section all to ourselves just below it. And intersexuality? Intersexuality apparently doesn’t come under gender, its classed with LGBT+ headings completely outside the ‘Groups of People’ section.

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Let’s take a brief foray outside the 305s to look at LGBT+ rights and their journey through Dewey 5. LGBT groups of people first made it into the system in 1932 under the straight up offensive ‘abnormal psychology’. By 1989 they had been moved to the differently offensive section for ‘social problems’. So where are they now? The good news is the sections themselves use modern, acceptable terms and they’re found in the section ‘306.7 – Sexual orientation, transgenderism, intersexuality’. The bad news is that 306.7 sandwiches LGBT+ people between prostitution and child trafficking on one side and fetishes and BDSM on the other.

Rather than classifying the LGBT+ community in an area dedicated to sex and surrounded by a whiff of deviancy, I would argue that LGBT+ people should be classed in the 305s as a group of people, because that is what they are.

That brings us to one of Deweys most egregious failings – its marginalisation of most of the world and its legacy of racism6. Entire books have been written about this and I will only be scratching the surface. Melvil Dewey published his classification system in the period immediately after the post-civil war reconstruction in America ended. This context undoubtedly shaped his treatment of African Americans, whom he referred to as “negroes”. They appeared in only two sections – under Biology and Slavery – in a reflection of the United States’ (and indeed the world’s) continuing preoccupation with white supremacy.

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No traces of those offensive and problematic sections remain today, but people are still subdivided into groups by race and nationality. You will likely be unsurprised to head that most of these groupings are either European or descended from Europeans. Most of the world is slotted into the final subcategory, which covers entire continents like Africa and Asia. It also includes groups Melvil Dewey probably saw as “others” who were not part of Western Civilisation. These include (but are not limited to) African Americans, Indigenous Peoples and, in a relic that can seem particularly bizarre to modern commentators, the Irish.

The Dewey Decimal System has evolved and improved significantly since its original publication in 1876. While it is a useful tool for efficiently organising libraries, it is also an invisible tool reinforcing social inequalities that place greater value on knowledge produced by, for and about straight white men. Next time you go to find a book, think about where you’re looking, and who created the path to that information.

Kendall J. Melvil Dewey, Compulsive Innovator: The decimal obsessions of an information organizer. American Libraries Magazine [Internet]. 2014; Available from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/03/24/melvil-dewey-compulsive-innovator/

3 Ford A. Bringing Harassment Out of the History Books: Addressing the troubling aspects of Melvil Dewey’s legacy. American Libraries Magazine [Internet]. 2018; Available from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/06/01/melvil-dewey-bringing-harassment-out-of-the-history-books/

4 OCLC. 300 [Internet]. Available from: https://www.oclc.org/content/dam/oclc/webdewey/help/300.pdf

5 Sullivan D. A brief history of homophobia in Dewey decimal classification. Overland literary journal [Internet]. 2015; Available from: https://overland.org.au/2015/07/a-brief-history-of-homophobia-in-dewey-decimal-classification/

6 Adler M. Classification Along the Color Line: Excavating Racism in the Stacks. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies [Internet]. 2017 Jan 29;1(1). Available from: http://libraryjuicepress.com/journals/index.php/jclis/article/view/17/10

– Maria O’Hara (Reading List Services Support Co-Ordinator)

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come back mother: Buchi Emecheta

My father told me very, very early in my life that why my third Ibo name is Nnenna –father’s mother, was because I am his comeback mother. It was said that when my father’s mother was dying, she had promised my father that she would come again, this time as his daughter.

-Buchi Emecheta, date unknown, from archive document

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Comeback mother: Buchi Emecheta was an archive show in fragments that unfolded in parts throughout its durational install, running from 5th – 19th April, 2018. The show centred on Buchi Emecheta’s personal archive: books, manuscripts, plays, personal letters, publishers letters, notebooks, ephemera, essays, newspapers and unpublished material. Elements were shown in both the Kingsway exhibition space and the Library at Goldsmiths.

Buchi Emecheta was a powerful and complex Nigerian British writer, teacher, mother, library worker and feminist. She wrote prolifically and defied easy categorization. She is loved by many: Womanists read her fierce motherhood and solidarity. Feminists, her bold representation of the personal political. Queer readers have picked up on her strong community making. She is proudly held up as a writer of both Nigerian and Black British identity and has inspired many contemporary postcolonial writers. She spent her life demonstrating how she is many things. The tensions, refusals and stands shoot through her novels, plays and critical writing.

At the ‘mid-way reception’ we invited author, Irenosen Okojie to read from her collection ‘Speak Gigantular’. Angelique Golding (MA Black British Writing) read from Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Head Above Water’ and we were very pleased to have Sylvester Onwordi with us to say a few words about the Buchi Emecheta archive. Sylvester’s photographs of the reception are featured on the Buchi Emecheta Foundation website.

We have many of Buchi Emecheta’s books in the library. If you’ve not read her yet, ‘Joys of Motherhood’ is an excellent place to begin. I’d also recommend ‘Head above Water’ and ‘In the Ditch’. Many of her titles will be re-published with Omenala Press. To support the exhibition we curated a reading list and book display at the front of the library. One of the important things looking at Buchi Emecheta’s work was to acknowledge contemporary writing and storytelling that has come before, around and after her.

You are welcome to access our reading list.

come back mother: Buchi Emecheta was co-organised by Halima Haruna and Jessa Mockridge in collaboration with Buchi Emecheta Foundation, Goldsmiths Library and supported by Goldsmiths Alumni & Friends Fund. With a very big thanks for all kinds of shaping, support and care from Sylvester Onwordi, Nadine Plummer, Angelique Golding, Althea Greenan and Laura Elliott.

– Jessa Mockridge

What’s it like to work at Goldsmiths Library? 

Ellen Haggar, who is currently studying for an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL, spent two weeks with us at the end of April to gain work experience in an academic library. This is Ellen’s account of her time here: 

“What kind of library do you want to work in?” This is always the question other librarians ask me upon learning that I study Library and Information Studies. To be honest, I still don’t have a clear answer. I usually reply with, “Oh, I’m open to anything!” Uninspiring, but true. Some people on my course know exactly what they want to do after they finish – work in a special collection or a law library. I’ve only ever worked in a public library, and so I wanted to use my two week placement to try out something new.

I’ve always had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be interesting to be a subject librarian – to combine my BA in English and Creative Writing with my library qualification, and help students studying English Literature. So when UCL placed me at Goldsmiths, I was excited to see the day to day working life of a subject librarian.

The first day was like the first day of any new job, crammed with introductions, tours, health and safety and shadowing various people. I was instantly struck by the impressive facilities, and the bustling yet relaxed atmosphere of the ground floor, which is a social study space. Everyone I met was interested in my course and happy to help. The first day provided me with an overview of the library and the Reader Services team, who are responsible for the help desk, stock circulation and user experience. As part of the Reception Team in my previous job, being on the help desk is something I really enjoy and have experience of, and definitely something I miss. The rest of my placement would be full of new experiences with the subject librarian team.

Goldsmiths currently have a team of four subject librarians, each responsible for a number of subjects. I think my favourite part of the placement was seeing how the librarians engage with students. A significant chunk of their time is dedicated to leading workshops on academic skills such as referencing, a subject that could be very dry, but is critical to success at university, and so the librarian’s knowledge and genuine desire to help shines through, leaving the students feeling more confident in their abilities. Something else that struck me about Goldsmiths Library was the enthusiasm for getting students involved. Each year the library runs a Library Student Rep Programme, which gives students practical experience working in a library, as well as the opportunity to purchase books for their course. I attended the debrief meeting in which the students gave their feedback – they all seemed to really enjoy and value the experience. I thought it was a brilliant idea and definitely something I would have done back at university – I was quite jealous!

Another aspect I found really valuable was looking at budgets and usage statistics. As someone who endured secondary school maths with a constant headache, I never thought I would admit that statistics and budgets would be interesting. But it is definitely something I need to get my head around for the future. I was given a mini-project looking at the usage and value for money of an e-resource – it was really valuable experience and helped me to think more about library budgets and getting the best out of resources. Tip – learn to love spreadsheets and graphs!

So, what kind of library do I want to work in? Certainly, subject librarianship still calls to me, and I am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to see a subject librarian team at work. But any role where I can help the library user, and feel like I’ve made a difference, surrounded by lovely colleagues is the perfect role for me.

 

Up close and personal with an exhibition:

As a history student, I have always been fascinated by exhibitions. Learning about the topic of the exhibition is quite remarkable. When I was asked to help with one at my placement, I jumped at the chance.

The exhibition I helped for was on the Balkans. Preparation for it took up two of my daysexhibition_1.png at the placement. Firstly, I had to do a bit of research on the Balkans. If I did not know anything about the Balkans, how was I supposed to find sources for the exhibition? Once that was all sorted out, I looked through the special collections and library catalogues to find sources. In order to keep track of the sources I found, I made a table. These tasks marked my first day working on the exhibition. The next day was a lot more varied. I was moving around, which was a nice change from having my fingers glued to the keyboard. I had to physically collect the sources; most of which were luckily in Special collections. The exception were 2 vinyls from the vinyl collection in the library. I spent about an hour trying to find the vinyl collection, only to find one was not available. I actually checked their availability on the catalogue before I went, just in case anyone was wondering. This part was right up my street: I had to analyse the sources to see if they were suitable. I kept most of the sources, apart from a few books and letters. The letters were very difficult to decipher — rich coming from me with my handwriting. When I eventually did decipher them, I found them to be irrelevant. Was it a waste of time deciphering them in the first place? Maybe, but if the source turned out to be detrimental to the exhibition, I would have slated myself for being so lazy.

exhibition_2Setting up the exhibition was the highlight of my day. It was a lot harder than I first anticipated. Getting the books to stay on the pages I wanted them to required a lot of DIY on my behalf. I eventually figured out the solution: making a stand out of foam blocks, binding together the blocks and book and then taping them together. I was pretty impressed with my efforts. They were not on the same level as many other exhibitions I have been to, but ju st being able to help with an exhibition was so enjoyable. I tried my best to present the items in an organised and creative way. The images of Balkans dancers were my favourite source. The women resembled dolls and I could hear the instruments, probably because I listened to Balkans music the day before. The other sources used were books on Balkans textiles, a CD and the vinyls mentioned earlier.

If asked to help at an exhibition again, I definitely would. It teaches you a lot about how to be selective and creative. When you see the joy the exhibition brings to people, it makes all of the work that goes into it 100% worth it.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

Passion for fashion?

Clothing. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Basic necessity? Maybe my livelihood? Everyone has their own view on the matter. The one thing that is certain about clothing is that it is a hot topic. Visiting the textiles collection at Goldsmiths made this more apparent.

The Textiles collection is housed in Deptford Town Hall, which I think is a pretty good match. Nothing but beauty surrounded me upon entering the collection. Fabrics, fashiontop guides and clothing filled the archives. I was blown away by the phenomenal attention to detail that went into the clothing available. The stitching was great, and the prints were stunning. I am particularly in love with embroidered garments, and there were so many. There was one outfit; it looked almost tribal in design. It was beautiful. The embroidery was so elaborate. I wonder if anyone else wanted to wear the outfit — I certainly did. The price of similar clothing in shops can have a maximum price range of well into the thousands. Why should self-expression come with such a high cost? It is because the 21st century likes to associate itself with being very fashion forward.

laceA lot of the prints in the collection are making a resurgence into fashion today. Some never even left — plaid and lace for example. Elegance is the word I would use to link together all of the old fabrics. Would I use that word today? Maybe not as much. I commend people who take risks, but some risks are just too much. I am a firm advocate of body confidence, but what is up with those see-through jeans? You might as well wear only your underwear, especially since they are not cheap. If your see-through jeans are your favourite clothing item, then good on you. Each to their own.

The one downside of the clothing in the collection was the limited options available for skirtwomen in England, predominantly in the 19th century. They all dressed in similar coloured and styled clothes: suede skirt suits with crisp white shirts. There was no real sense of individuality — more a sense of professionalism. That is the biggest change from the 19th century to now. Clothes are more powerful as instruments of our identity. They reflect what we stand for. I wish there was a compromise between the two generations: individuality, decent prices and informed fashion choices.

The Textiles collection taught me a lot about the importance of clothing, and moreover, the shift in the use of clothing from the 19th century to now.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

Avtar’s referencing tips

Avtar_-_Goldsmiths

Avtar Natt joined the Library Subject Librarian Team in October of last year from the University of Bedfordshire. He looks after Anthropology, Media and Communications, Politics and Sociology. In this blog post he draws on his wealth of experience as a librarian working in Higher Education to offer some referencing guidance.

 

Referencing – With a looming deadline – What do I do?!

We’re at the time of year where assessments and dissertations are due. On top, you all have to factor in ‘life’ so that can mean work commitments, a personal life and the upcoming World Cup. Meeting deadline upon deadline means that the little bits (such as storing all references) get overlooked and stressfully recovered in the last minute. Many times I had those AAARGH moments; being hours away from a deadline, having written all of my citations but not even started the referencing. Never fear, it’s all recoverable and with little stress. So much so that I provide the following advice:

Know your referencing scheme and be consistent

You can check places like the course handbook or the library pages at Goldsmiths to know what scheme you need to use. If you are doing units from several departments, double-check what scheme your departments require. Inconsistency sticks out like a sore thumb and please don’t forget to do a CTRL+F search of a bracket ( and double check all citations in the text. Are they all in your references list?

If quoting/paraphrasing, include the pages in your notes

Referencing is enough of a pain in the neck without having to check the pages you got a quote from after the fact. You may think you have cracked it when you come across something in Google Books (when the physical copy is on loan) but make sure you have the right edition. Corroboration is your objective. Nothing else.

It’s okay to be a technophobe.

If you don’t want any technological assistance, you need to make sure you keep paper records. Shoe boxes are great places to archive your materials and the print outs of journal articles and weblinks need to include where they are from. When it comes to a bunch of pages from a book that you stapled together, write down the reference or at worst the ISBN of the book and pages used.

Common referencing errors

Omitting the pages of a journal article, mistaking an editor of a book with the author of a book chapter and not including the edition of a book come to mind. When it comes to weblinks, make sure you include the date you accessed these things (and if in a rush make it the date of the deadline).

The more diverse the source, the more time it takes.

The classic referencing schemes were created for print materials. Managing digital sources is fiddlier as you need to include more information detailing where you got the information. There are also visual sources and performances. If this is what you are coming across, look for an authoritative referencing guide (and read on).

Don’t just Google it and beware false prophets

All universities like to tweak their own version of Harvard, so using the guide from another university means that you inherit their quirks. Also be mindful that a guide might be easily accessible but also be out of date. A personal bug bear is students thinking the solutions they find on the Internet can do everything. They don’t. Generally they work best for established referencing schemes and for conventional academic materials. Goldsmiths (like other university libraries) look after their own first.

You have never had it so easy with Zotero and the magic wand!

As a library we push Zotero (rather, we do lots of training sessions in how to use it). It’s free and easy to use if you are prepared to make the commitment. It’s also super speedy to recover your references when they are books or journal articles. All you need to do is type in the ISBN or DOI where there you see the magic wand icon.

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With all of the references you cited stored in Zotero, you can then produce a references list. It is imperative that you go into your Preferences, select Cite and select the appropriate scheme for your assignment. I’d remove the schemes Zotero thinks you need and make the most of ‘Get additional styles’. For those using Harvard, make sure you select ‘Cite Them Right 10th edition – Harvard’. 

You can also drag and drop PDF’s of journal articles and it will recover all of the information or give you the option to do so:

Can Zotero really let you cite while you write? 

Yes, it can do that too (plus lots of other fancy things) but when in a rush, focus more on getting things right rather than learning too many things. If you want to know more, the library regularly do sessions and you can always ask them. They are happy to support.

We also have information on referencing and Zotero on Enhancing Academic Skills Online

You call that art?

 

Art is subjective, but what isn’t? There are multiple artistic styles: realism, impressionism, abstraction, to name a few. Different people have a personal connection to the style, or styles, that appeal to them the most.

I am not an art connoisseur. I know what you are thinking; I knew the names of different artistic styles so I must be. A quick Google search can turn any amateur into a professional. I have always had a deep appreciation of art. I am in awe of people that have a flair for art, since I cannot even draw 2 circles that are the same size. Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves, and art is a way for others to appreciate that self-expression. In a lot of ways, images can illustrate more than words. They can implicitly address certain issues, and are open to interpretation. Words are used so often and without thought that they lose meaning. Images are not always easy to decipher — there lies their beauty, but also their downfall.

I know that art is so vast, but some pieces of art make me question how selective art should be. If I was confident enough and had contacts, I am sure I could blag my way in getting some of my work into the Tate. Take Anthony Hill’s “Diagonal Composition,” on the left, for example — yes, it is aesthetAnthonyically pleasing. However, on a serious note, could they not have found anything better to display on their website? I could have drawn his piece, and that says a lot. I am sure a backlash of angry fans of Hill are waiting to attack me, but that is my view. For me, realism is my favourite style. I like when you can identify what is happening in an image fairly quickly. The fact that subjects of realism were predominantly from the lower and working classes appeals to me even more. When I look at realist art, I am truly dumbfounded by how incredible the artist is. I can compare the image to its counterpart in real life to see how life-like the image is. HopperEdward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, on the right, is one of the most iconic realist paintings. Looking at it, I feel like I am standing on the street looking into the bar. I can imagine the smell of gin lingering in the air. It is a scene that we would often encounter on a regular basis in reality. The painting is pretty simplistic, but makes viewers think. Why is one man sitting alone? Who are the couple? Are they even in a bar? We may never know the answers to these questions. However, that is art. It can excite and baffle you at the same time.

Sometimes it is so easy to discredit creative subjects, since we are constantly told they are “soft” and won’t get us anywhere in life. I fell into that trap in the past. Being at Goldsmiths, a university which strives on creativity, it is hard to ignore the beauty and relevance of art. Art does not have a correct answer. Does that mean it is of less importance than biology? Certainly not!

We should not be afraid to excel in what we are good at. Whether it is mathematics, history or art. Everything that we do will contribute to society, so it should not matter what we study or appreciate. Since you are at Goldsmiths, why not take the time to explore the artistic talent on offer. With alumni including Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley, it would be a shame not to.

 

This blog post was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed a placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.