More on the Impact of Biased Metadata, or a Part 2

We’ve seen a general overview of why and how biased metadata impacts marginalized communities. However, each of these communities has been deeply impacted by the issues created by biased metadata, and should be explored a bit more to understand why inclusive and adaptive metadata is important. Since I covered the disabled community somewhat in a previous post, I’ll focus on the others here.

For the LGBTQ community, the idea of terminology is a fraught subject. From slurs and hate speech to eventual reclamation of terms, this community has had its share of struggles regarding terms and classification. The shift from terms like “homosexual,” “f****t,” and “queer” to terms like “gay,” a reclaimed version of “queer,” and others illustrates the steps forward that the community and society has taken in its understanding of this community. However, not everyone has progressed at the same rate, both in larger society as well as in certain academic circles and research environments. If researchers are not knowledgeable as to the most recent acceptable terms and research methods, they may use a term in a way that is offensive, outdated, or even triggering to their audience.

Black/African American communities and indigenous populations have both been treated less than admirably by conventional terminology and metadata systems. I’m grouping them together here mostly to make this post a bit less lengthy, but they are distinct communities that really should be considered separately. Both of these communities have been affected by racist, oppressive histories and events that have strongly impacted the way that these communities are thought about, and how documentation about them has been categorized. Too often, the histories of these groups are lumped under categories like “colonialism,” diminishing or erasing the unique cultures and experiences of these peoples and instead allowing their stories to be dominated by the white majority.

Women are sometimes an afterthought when it comes to marginalized communities and how they have been classified. However, they are an important group to consider in matters of categorization, especially as their metadata has evolved from conceptions of them as wives and homemakers to being women who hold careers, offices, and achievements. Though many attribute the shift in women’s roles and their struggle for independence to the rise of feminism, the way that women are thought about and classified has in fact been slowly shifting and evolving for many years.

Without improved and inclusive metadata, the struggles and achievements of these communities are overlooked as their historical roots and oppression are the headings that they are categorized under. While the work of current metadata and library professionals has been helping to improve the metadata and classification of these groups, it has a ways to go before it completely overcomes the shortcomings of the past.

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