Intercultural Competence in Knowledge Representation

The ALCTS Cataloging & Metadata Management Section (CaMMS) Forum took place at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference on Sunday, June 24. The session, titled “Intercultural Competence in Knowledge Representation,” featured Athena Salaba, associate professor at the Kent State University School of Information, presenting preliminary results of research she conducted into intercultural competency of knowledge organization professionals.

Salaba situated her work in the broader context of bias in knowledge organization. She cited Hope Olson’s book The Power to Name: Locating the Limits of Subject Representation in Libraries, highlighting Olson’s assertion that a so-called “commitment to neutrality” in knowledge organization in fact excludes certain people and topics. The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) provide a number of examples illustrating this exclusion. The heading “Japanese Americans—Evacuation and relocation, 1942–1945” sanitizes the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. Salaba also shared examples of headings for Greek literature. While the 1930s was a significant time period in Greek literature, LCSH offers only broad categories of “Special periods” in “Byzantine and modern Greek literature” — such as “Modern, 1600–1960” — revealing a clear gap in cultural awareness.

While research into cultural competence has been ongoing for decades, it is fairly new to library and information science in general, and particularly new to knowledge organization. The focus of cultural competency in libraries has typically centered around library services, collection development, organizational development, and recruitment and retention of staff from underrepresented groups. In her research, Salaba is expanding this focus to include knowledge organization.

To begin to explore intercultural awareness in knowledge organization, Salaba surveyed 41 knowledge organization professionals, in part using the Intercultural Development Inventory. This instrument is used to assess where individuals fall on the Intercultural Development Continuum.

Arrow arcing up and to the right, with the the far left representing a 'monocultural mindset' and the far right representing an 'intercultural mindset.'
The Intercultural Development Continuum is ranges from “monocultural mindset” to “intercultural mindset.” The stages of intercultural development are denial, polarization, minimization, acceptance, and adaptation. Diagram courtesy of IDI, LLC.

Salaba presented some of the results of her study, highlighting interesting takeaways. A majority of participants were users of knowledge organization systems (versus creators or maintainers of knowledge organization systems) from the United States. Overall, participants rated the importance of various intercultural awareness topics in knowledge organization highly — for example, “ethnic and moral differences among cultures,” “geography of different areas,” “world history,” etc. The results based on the Intercultural Development Inventory revealed that participants’ perceived place on the Intercultural Development Continuum was higher — in the “Acceptance” range — than their actual place on the continuum, which was slightly below “Minimization.”

The results of the survey, underscored by the dissonance in participants’ perceived versus actual position on the Intercultural Development Continuum, show that there is a shared value of intercultural competence in the field, but a clear need for increased intercultural competence in knowledge organization. Salaba plans to continue her research to learn what factors shape professionals’ competence and how strategies to increase this competence in the field can be integrated into the library and information science graduate curriculum.

Presentation slides are available to ALA Annual 2018 attendees.

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