Power that is Moral: e-Forum Summary

This article was co-written by the e-Forum moderators.

On September 5–6, 2017 Violet Fox and Elizabeth Shoemaker co-hosted an ALCTS e-Forum on “Power That is Moral: Ethics in Cataloging.” This e-Forum continued discussion that began at the ALA Midwinter Cataloging & Metadata Management Section (CaMMS) Forum, Power That Is Moral: Creating a Cataloging Code of Ethics.

Word cloud of e-Forum summary text

On the first day of the eForum, participants offered thoughts about what kind of ethical problems they encounter in their work, and what might be helpful to aid in negotiating those questions. Many participants acknowledged the inherent biases and weaknesses of working with national vocabularies. They recognized many tensions in cataloging work: between how creators present work and how users look for information, between highlighting works by marginalized communities but unintentionally thereby reinforcing white or cisgendered perspectives as the norm, and between cataloging rules and when to bend or break them in service of user communities. Participants also discussed otherness in classification, especially with regards to race or ethnicity and LGBTQ+ identity. A conversational thread also emerged about the idea of neutrality and the role it does or does not play in cataloging work.

On the second day, participants were asked about whether a code of ethics or best practices document of some kind would be useful to them, and what the form of such a document might be. Some expressed concern that it would simply be one more set of guidelines to be adhered to, while others were unsure how universally such a document would be accepted. If a document were created, participants particularly wanted it to be flexible, written in natural, non-jargony, language; the purpose of such a document would be to help catalogers weigh options rather than prescribe cataloging practices. When asked about who might benefit from such a document, participants thought that LIS educators, new catalogers, and even experienced catalogers would be served by it. Educators and professional could use a code of ethics to cultivate professional identify, as well as to make and explain decisions.

Over the two days there were over 140 posts to the e-Forum, and many participants raised issues and ideas that will be integral to CaMMS’ next steps towards an ethics guidelines document.

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