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Published: 16 Jan, 2022

About hard-to-find topics in the library system

FEATURE Can library search tools affect how we view research? Coppélie Cocq, a professor of Sami studies with a focus on digital humanities, has been thinking about how categorisation in digital systems can affect the way research and knowledge is communicated, and wanted to know more about the role a library’s classification system can play. A contact with Umeå University Library led to a seminar on the topic and a solution in the library’s search system.

Text: Susanne Sjöberg

How visible is Sami research in the library’s collections? Coppélie Cocq asked herself this question while working on an article in which she critically examines what can be found about indigenous research and the categorisation of the subject. In the physical collections, Sami research is found in many different places and not everything comes up in a search.

Much of the problematisation in the research does not come up in a search

- Much of the problematisation in the research does not come up in a search. It is difficult to find everything that is done in a multidisciplinary subject such as Sami studies, says Coppélie Cocq.

Insufficient search results

Coppélie Cocq’s area of research also involves digital technology and she is interested in the role of technology design – and how does our culture influence design? Today, when virtually all literature searches start in the library search tool, it’s an important and interesting area to look at. She has notices how old values continue to shape the systems, sometimes resulting in incomplete search results. When Coppélie Cocq was working on an article about this, she contacted the library to learn more about how DDK (Dewey Decimal Classification) classification system works. Anders Lennver, a librarian at the University Library, who has been working with the library’s DDK collection, was delighted when he was asked:

- The fact that a user and researcher is interested in an important part of our work is both gratifying and valuable. We are aware that there are difficulties in finding some subjects in our collections, especially subjects with an interdisciplinary character, so this was just a confirmation of that, says Anders Lennver.

- All of us who work to make our resources accessible want to improve that work, it’s part of our job. Dewey is an old American classification system in which Anglo-American culture is the norm, while Sami culture, for example, is seen as something exotic and thus ends up on the periphery, and thus gets longer codes, explains Anders Lennver.

Selection facet

Together, they began to brainstorm about what could improve a search. Librarian Lars Iselid, who works with the library search tool, developed a special selection facet for “Sami studies” that better captures research, whether it belongs to sociology, law, language or history. This solution could be made by combining codes in DDK with Swedish subject words, which are originally used to expand other subject areas with the group “Sami”. The result is that Sami studies are made visible regardless of which scientific discipline it is originally classified under.

We must always strive to make the library search tool better and easier to use

- We must always strive to make the library search tool better and easier to use. With this case, we are learning more about the problems and how the technology works, and can apply it to other areas such as LGBTQ+, a topic that also risks getting incomplete results in searches.

Once the solution was in place, a seminar in the Humlab Share series was organized with the title “Difficult topics in libraries”, where Coppélie Cocq, Anders Lennver and Lars Iselid talked about the collaboration and the solution developed. Together with other librarians and researchers who participated, there was also a discussion on the pros and cons of a classification system like Dewey which is well established and used worldwide. The colonial gaze also characterizes these systems, according to them, and therefore a decolonization of them is needed, where possible.

Umeå University is part of UArtic and Umeå University Library is in turn a member of the Polar Libraries Colloquy, an association of libraries linked to polar research. Within Polar Libraries Colloquy, an initiative has been taken this autumn to start a network that will work on the decolonization of metadata. A handful of digital meetings have already been held and the work is progressing.

Coppélie Cocq's article