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EDI Perspectives, Part 4
by
Posted On March 11, 2024
Marci Wicker, a public services law librarian and assistant professor of the practice of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford, Miss., writes a column for Information Today that explores issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI, sometimes referred to as DEI) in the information industry. Here’s a look at her columns from January/February to November/December 2023, which have been lightly edited and condensed for the web. 

Here are the previous parts of the series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

You can read the full columns in Information Today, starting with the January/February 2021 issue.

If you’re working toward EDI at your institution and would like to share your approaches with us, email itletters@infotoday.com.


OER Academic Freedom: A Vehicle for Diversity and Inclusivity

Royce Kimmons' headshotFor the past 20 years, the open educational resource (OER) movement has been building. “A long-term goal is for OERs to be openly licensed ... as well as technologically accessible and editable using generally available tools, and designed with diverse learners in mind,” according to T.J. Bliss and M. Smith in “A Brief History of Open Educational Resources” from 2017. The resounding thump in the hearts of all of those who believe in OERs are those 5 Rs that are relied on to help us reach a more equitable and generous future: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute.

I recently had the chance to speak with Royce Kimmons, associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University. I first became aware of Kimmons’ work through a 2020 article he co-authored about faculty members’ experiences with OERs titled “Faculty Members’ Lived Experiences With Choosing Open Educational Resources.” One of the conclusions of this article is that time, or more appropriately, lack of time, is a major barrier to creating and using OERs for the faculty members that Kimmons and his co-author studied. As Kimmons spoke about why time was such a barrier, he explained the idea that OERs give us the vehicle to create a more equitable and diverse learning environment, but because of possible disproportionate privilege, the people who are the most vocal and able to use OERs are the most privileged.

Regarding the consideration of time constraints, Kimmons gave the example of women and minorities taking on more duties in committees and organizations within the academic setting, which takes a percentage of their available time. He also gave the example that tenured professors may have more time to use and create OERs than non-tenured faculty, because non-tenured faculty are under pressure to produce traditional academic scholarship in order to earn tenure promotion. He said that in the past, he has recommended that non-tenured professors delay creating OERs until after they have worked and produced accepted scholarship and attained tenure so they would have the appropriate time to devote to them.

OERs give faculty members unexpected empowerment over how they design their coursework and what they include in it. Faculty members have the freedom to create their own textbook without being dependent on a publisher’s view of the marketability of the topic of their text. They also have the ability to use someone else’s model and adapt it for their particular students, culture, and location, explained Kimmons. “Adaptation and localization capability in OER is where the real opportunities of diversity and inclusion come into play,” he said.

OERs also fit squarely within many institutions’ stated missions, goals, and objectives through access, affordability, diversity, and quality. Kimmons said that librarians have been on the cutting edge of this movement from the beginning. He noted some of the roles they should play:

  • Being an advocate for the students both for needs and information user experience
  • Providing the institution with guidance on what success and high-quality OER work look like for the institution
  • Providing quality assurance steps for faculty members who want to create OERs to promote high-quality and successful work

A Q&A With ChatGPT About Inclusivity 

A few months after its launch, I had a discussion with ChatGPT about itself and communication inclusivity. My questions are in uppercase and bold, and ChatGPT’s answers (copied directly from the site) are in italics below each of my questions. My commentary appears after the answers.

HOW CAN CHATGPT BE HELPFUL FOR PEOPLE WITH COMMUNICATION DISABILITIES?

One way that Chat GPT can assist people with communication disorders is by providing clear and concise responses to their queries. The model can understand the intent behind a person’s questions, and generate responses that are easy to understand, without the use of complex language or jargon. This can be especially helpful for individuals with communication disorders who may struggle with understanding complex language. ChatGPT can also help increase inclusivity by offering multiple ways for people to interact with the model. For example, some individuals with communication disorders may find it easier to type out their responses, while others may prefer to use voice commands.

Communication is an obstacle for people with communication disabilities such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and stuttering. Expressing themselves quickly and completely or understanding complex language may be a struggle for some of these individuals. This makes participating fully in social, academic, and professional environments a challenge. ChatGPT and other AI technologies could help people with communication disabilities by saving them time and effort, such as by drafting or improving written communication, suggesting scripts, writing formal correspondence, or giving advice on how to navigate social situations.

HOW IS CHATGPT INCLUSIVE?

… Open AI strives to make its language models, including ChatGPT, inclusive and accessible for all users. Accessibility features: Open AI has incorporated accessibility feature into its language models to make them easier to use for individuals with disabilities. For example, the models can be integrated into AAC devices to provide a voice for individuals with speech impairment. …

ChatGPT could be considered an assistive technology if it helps people with communication disabilities get their message across more efficiently or effectively; integration into augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices would provide a voice for individuals with speech impairments. We have already seen that speech recognition software and AI have been particularly helpful for people with intellectual disabilities and speech impairments, in the form of assistants such as Alexa and Siri. ChatGPT could be used as a component of devices like these and in smart home devices, which could help individuals with disabilities manage their daily tasks more easily. Integrating this type of technology into smartphones and smart speakers could make information and communication more accessible as well.


The Homosaurus: The Missing Link You Need to Know About

The Homosaurus is a controlled vocabulary used to describe LGBTQ+ resources by libraries, archives, museums, and other heritage institutions. By using this linked data vocabulary, catalogers, librarians, and archivists can ensure that they are providing discoverable, inclusive access to their resources in a standardized, equitable way.

Rawson and HuckabyI took the opportunity to learn about the Homosaurus vocabulary by speaking with K.J. Rawson, an associate professor of English and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern University and the chairperson of the Homosaurus editorial board. His most recent article, “Mediating Queer and Trans Pasts: The Homosaurus as Queer Information Activism,” co-authored with Marika Cifor, explains, “From library stacks to online searches, queer and trans pasts are mediated by the information infrastructures that organize, describe, and construct those pasts to make them accessible to users.”

I also spoke with Justin Huckaby, an assistant professor of the practice of law and head of collections and access services at Grisham Law Library at the University of Mississippi School of Law, who walked me through the logistics of early Homosaurus integration for librarians.

Rawson explained the Homosaurus online linked vocabulary to me using the example of the concept of “crossdresser,” which at an earlier time may have been expressed by a different term and moving forward may also be expressed using a different term. However, the concept stays the same. That concept is stable and is the stable identifier, the link, that always stays the same, but you can change the term that expresses that link. That term is used to discover the document containing the concept.

Because the Homosaurus is used by information professionals who input metadata on the back end of search platforms, most people searching for queer and trans content aren’t even aware that they may be interacting with Homosaurus terms. When you navigate to the Homosaurus website and open the vocabulary, you can access the vocabulary terms in an alphabetical list, graphical views, or downloadable formats. When you open an entry, you are presented with the Homosaurus’ preferred term, a description, related terms, and narrower terms. The vocabulary is set up as a crosswalk—a thesaurus—between Homosaurus terms and broad subject term vocabularies such as the Library of Congress.

Rawson says there are a number of vendors and library consortia that can centralize this process of using the Homosaurus and then push the integration out directly to users. Huckaby told me that one of the first decisions he made when he became a technical services law librarian was to upload the LGBTQ+ law and rights digital database by HeinOnline that included Homosaurus terms in its subject heading field in addition to Library of Congress terminology when it was first offered. Huckaby says he will continue to integrate the Homosaurus terms into his catalog through commercial cataloger records when they are available. His plan going forward is to create lists of records from the catalog that contain terms associated with the LGBTQ+ community using the Homosaurus vocabulary. He will then add a new 600, 655, field to the MARC record to update it with the Homosaurus language.

I asked Rawson if there was an easy method for those who would like to integrate the Homosaurus terms rapidly to provide the most current, accurate, and inclusive searching and access for their patrons. He said that the Homosaurus board is at the tail end of creating a 30-plus-page implementation guide that is designed to introduce people to the resource and how they may begin implementing it. The best resource, however, will always be other people who are using it, so one of the board’s goals is to build up its user community.


The Relevance of Diversity Residencies

According to ALA’s most recent published data, 88.7% of the ALA membership reports their race or ethnicity as white, 3.7% as Hispanic or Latino, 4.5% as Black or African American, 3.7% as Asian, and 3.8% as “other.” Libraries have attempted to remedy this lack of diversity by changing steps in the process of library and information science education, hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce, and developing diverse collections and library programs.

One of the ways academic libraries are altering the hiring and retaining aspect is through the creation and cultivation of diversity resident librarian positions and programs. The purpose of these residencies is to provide mentorship, professional development, and hands-on exposure to different areas of the library while advancing diversity initiatives for both the library profession and the institution. The ACRL Diversity Alliance program’s goals include the creation of paid positions with no required years of experience through early-career diversity residencies and graduate student practicums, the advancement of career path development for BIPOC early professionals, the building of professional network connections for BIPOC individuals, the retention of BIPOC librarians and archivists in the profession, and a commitment of library leaders to the advancement of inclusive leadership and access to the profession.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Quetzalli Barrientos, the open education research librarian at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Gutman Library. From 2015 to 2018, she worked as a resident librarian for reference and instruction at American University. Barrientos spoke to me about the importance and value of quality mentorship and residency coordinators for these residencies. Barrientos and her resident coordinator, Nikhat Ghouse, worked so well together and so closely that they created a sample road map for the residency program, and Ghouse attended Barrientos’ wedding after she left American University. The suggested 3-year sample road map includes the following:

  • Year 1—The resident should have brainstormed a research agenda and be moving forward with research projects. They should be focused on first-year writing courses and defining the expected teaching load.
  • Year 2—Time for exploration of professional interests should be scheduled while taking on a larger course load, engaging in professional development, and presenting at conferences.
  • Year 3—Focus should include revising cover letters and resumes and applying for jobs.

The things that Barrientos said contribute to successful residencies are an organized structure for the residency, professional development funds support, the freedom to pursue interests, connecting with resident networks, and attending diversity alliance workshops, panels, and institutes. Something Barrientos wanted to emphasize based on some of her peer residents’ experiences is that universities need to structure these residency programs well both for the resident and the current staff. The worst thing to happen in a residency is for no one to know what the resident is doing there; people could see or treat them as interns, which is not their purpose or potential. The Diversity Alliance has developed a toolkit to promote quality residency program processes, which includes guidelines for establishing residency steering and planning committees, a pre-residency checklist for institutions, guidelines for establishing a mentorship program, and a residency support survey.


Exploring the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance

Historically, Indigenous knowledge has been collected without proper consent and shared without consideration for cultural context. This invaluable repository of knowledge takes various forms, including printed publications (such as books and articles), oral histories and songs, and tangible collections housed within museums, archives, and libraries. In this age of digital proliferation, the internet has expanded the potential for the global dissemination of these collections, albeit sometimes at odds with cultural protocols.

Indigenous communities have an intrinsic connection to their territories, natural resources, and distinctive social, economic, and political systems. The recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the right to self-determination underscore their claims to data ownership. However, Indigenous collections are often buried within vast datasets, repositories, or even scientific publications. Oftentimes, metadata errors and the absence of comprehensive provenance information further exacerbate the task of managing this rich tapestry of knowledge.

The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) has introduced the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, setting forth a minimum standard for external entities that are seeking to engage with Indigenous data and communities:

  • Collective Benefit—This principle champions inclusive development, innovation, enhanced governance, citizen engagement, equitable outcomes, and the cultivation of positive relationships.
  • Authority to Control—This principle duly recognizes Indigenous rights and interests concerning data governance and the governance of data itself. 
  • Responsibility—This principle emphasizes the broadening of capabilities and capacity, the promotion of Indigenous languages and worldviews, and the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Ethics—At its core, this principle is committed to minimizing harm, maximizing benefit, ensuring justice, and contemplating the future use of Indigenous data.

To bridge the chasm between copyright laws and cultural protocols and to operationalize the CARE Principles, the Local Contexts organization has introduced the Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Biocultural (BC) Labels. These labels serve as instructive beacons, guiding the responsible use and access of digital cultural heritage used in collaboration with Indigenous communities. They were created to empower Indigenous communities in educating non-Indigenous users about the intricacies of cultural protocols that envelop their knowledge.

TK Labels signal the appropriate usage and sharing of information within Indigenous communities, addressing nuanced considerations such as gender-specific sharing practices, attribution, sacred or seasonal nature, and commercial use. There are 20 of them, and they can be added as a different subfield within the Library of Congress MARC record as a traditional knowledge label field. An example of these labels being used on a website is the Passamaquoddy People’s Knowledge Portal. It is used as a field in a MARC record in the Passamaquoddy war song Library of Congress record. In addition to the TK Labels, Local Contexts’ BC Labels spotlight the groups that wield primary authority over the data and can thereby regulate its commercial use.


Marci Wicker is a public services law librarian and assistant professor of the practice of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford, Miss. She is a trained J.D., a practiced R.N., and a Toyota Kata master with interests in risk management; equity, diversity, and inclusion; and compliance.

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