The Incluseum’s New Metadata Schema: A Controlled Vocabulary for Tagging

Over the last three years of our work with the Incluseum, we’ve thought, written, and talked extensively of the power of words. For example, our first digital exhibition, The Power of Labeling, used the power of words as its premise. Working through the medium of the blog, however, we became dissatisfied with our ad-hoc and fractured way of organizing content. In other words, related content has not been systematically categorized and labelled as to make their relations visible. Moreover, we were concerned that our simple buckets (e.g., “race/racism”, “gender”, etc.) did not accurately Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.11.18 AMcapture how we wanted to be referring to the content in our blogposts.

To address this situation, we partnered with Gabbie Barnes and Becca Fronczak, both students in the University of Washington’s Master in Library and Information Science program. They used their skills to develop a metadata schema for The Incluseum blog. A metadata schema helps create a standard for how things (i.e., information resources) should be described within a particular context to enhance user access. Here, their goal was also to ensure that the metadata schema would match The Incluseum’s values…A process they explain in the post below. Over the next few months, they will be applying this metadata schema to the blog, re-categorizing and re-labeling our content accordingly. We are extremely thankful for their contribution to making The Incluseum a better blog!

You can access the Metadata Schema here.

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The first big task for us was to get acquainted with the site, the founders’ mission and vision, and the type of posts that had been written since the site’s inception.  We chose five posts to read at random.  For each post we read, we assigned potential tags based on the content.  We then cross checked the tags we generated to the tags that were actually assigned by the authors.  We were interested to see if and how our understanding and the understanding of the Incluseum coordinators’ terms intersected.

Next, Gabbie scraped all of the tags from the WordPress site and created a comprehensive Google Spreadsheet with all of the tags, which totaled 211 unique tags.  She broke up the Spreadsheet in a way that allowed us to classify tags as Keep, Update, or Toss as well as our justifications and a space for new tag names. In order to tackle such a big list, we first went through all 211 tags on our own, making comments in the Google Spreadsheet where we thought discussion was needed. This resulted in a spreadsheet with a lot of comments. We met on two different occasions to go through the list. This was challenging, but rewarding work. I believe that any time individuals come together to have honest, open discussions about the issues surrounding inclusion, there will be learning and personal growth.

Despite the learning, the discussion process was tiring. Towards the end of our sessions we had long silences, our words were jumbled, and we found ourselves staring into space. We conducted research during the sessions for best practices and preferred terminology in the fields of education and social work. We also made an appointment with the D Center on campus. The D Center describes their mission as, “striv[ing] to create an inclusive, accessible space affirming of all bodies, minds and identities by fostering a culture of social justice and pride.” We were interested in having a discussion with student leaders about appropriate tag names that fit with the established guidelines with our schema. We’ll discuss that in a bit, but that meeting was a great example of the tensions of attempting to create labels for an initiative that places a great emphasis on inclusion.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was the inherent discord between inclusion and the act of classification and separation.  The inherent nature of tags is to organize information by identifying unique traits. A control vocabulary (CV) should be neat and easy to understand. The world we live in is not like that. Labeling is, in and of itself, inherently political. It was, therefore, a challenge to develop a list of tags to label posts (in service of making things easier to find) while trying to work from a place that honors and respects the truths of individuals from all walks of life.  Some individuals eschew labels while others embrace them. Part of the mission of the Incluseum is to generate dialogue on how museums can connect with and work with marginalized groups and how professionals can participate in creating meaningful, thoughtful, and honest dialog around challenging, and yet socially relevant, topics. The tagging schema we were to create had to reflect that.

As we worked through the tags, themes emerged. We called these theme “Categories.” While “Categories” will not be applied to the tags on the site, they help make sense of the tags we have. While creating a naming convention, we recognized the challenge of having tags that were on the same hierarchical level. For instance, in our discussion with the D Center, we were curious as to what self-identifying labels are used by individuals with disabilities. It began a great dialogue about how some people might use the term “deaf” while others might use “hearing impaired” and others still may identify with a different word or phrase. We soon realized that it would be impossible to find a “one size fits all” tag for different people groups. That, in turn, led us into a discussion with the D Center about the difference between tagging posts about specific groups of people versus tagging posts for philosophical discussions or best practices.

Upon this discussion, we decided to scrap the idea of tagging posts that mentioned specific people groups.  It also alleviated some of the challenges we faced regarding hierarchical structure of the schema. While not necessary, it is best practice in the Information Sciences, to have tags on the same hierarchical level. For example if you had one tag as “Cats” and another tag as “Golden Retrievers” you have a level of specificity with the tag “Golden Retrievers” that you do not have with the tag “Cats”.  Instead, we deferred to broader terms across the board. In a real-world example of this, we created the tag “Sexual Identities” which covers a multitude of ways in which people self-identify (Straight, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual, Polyamorous, Asexual, etc.). This, hopefully, will also allow for possible changes in self-identification.

As we worked through the Scope Notes of the tags, we had a digital, asynchronous discussion that inevitably adjusted some of our Scope Notes. This took place over the course of several months. Unfortunately, a bulk of our work was done just before a large deadline for our masters program. This Capstone project consumed quite a bit of our time and then Gabbie was offered the exciting opportunity to move cross-country and work at Hartford Public Library with YOUmedia, a digital learning and maker space just for teens. Becca spent the summer exploring the idea of Special Librarianship for a local company. She was introduced to more topics and challenges in the field of Knowledge Management.

While Gabbie is in the real-world, putting what we’ve learned into practice with some amazing teens and librarians, Becca is still working towards her dual graduate degrees in Library & Information Science and Museology. The next step of our process was to deliver the CV as it is, along with a narrative explaining our work, and then we will request feedback. This feedback will be integrated into “complete” CV for Version 1.  It is important to note that there will likely be many iterations of the CV, provided that the tagging system is still used on the incluseum site. A good CV is never truly finished. Organizations and individuals continue to learn as they are exposed to more ideas and research. We would also like to apply the new tags to previous posts so that users of the site will have the optimum search experience with this CV. Finally, we hope to have opportunities to present this work or share it in some way to the Library, Museum, and Academic communities.

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Gabbie Barnes is the teen librarian at YOUmedia Hartford—a digital learning and maker space for teenagers ages 13-19. She received her Master of Library and Information Science in June 2015 and holds a B.A. in Communication with a minor in Art and a focus on cinema studies and studio art. She has interned at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and volunteered at the Seattle Art Museum’s Teacher Resource Center. You can usually find her experimenting with the different social tools people use to create, share, and disseminate information—hashtags are of current and particular interest. In her spare time, she studies the intersections of critical race theory with gender studies, practices Vinyasa yoga, and actively paddleboards. She finds great pleasure in learning how normal and mundane things like salt, sugar, and toothpicks shape the larger perspective of our history and culture. Her investment in the Incluseum project is bred of all of her interests combined into one digital space. She will never give up on the Oxford comma.

Becca Fronczak earned her B.S. in Elementary Education and History from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She is currently a Masters candidate at the University of Washington – Seattle in the Library and Information Science and the Museology programs. Her capstone project for the LIS program was done in partnership with Gabbie and another fabulous peer. It is This Library Life, a site that aggregates unique services public libraries across the country are providing to their community members. Her thesis project for the Museology program is a contemporary art exhibit titled Secrets Can… at the Kirkland Arts Center. You can read about her process at The Emerging Curator blog. She’s worked in collections, special libraries, knowledge management, information organization, and exhibits. Her educational background and volunteer experiences have fed her passion for leading a life that is meaningful, collaborative, and that works towards equity and social justice. 

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3 comments

  1. […] Read about our process and the impetus for the project in: “The Incluseum’s New Metadata Schema: A Controlled Vocabulary for Tagging.” […]

  2. […] MLIS alums Becca Fronzcak and Gabbie Barnes were credited with developing a metadata schema for the Incluseum Project, a Seattle-based organization that encourages inclusion in museums. The metadata work began as an […]

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