Knowledge Production and Subject Terms

Today is the day! This morning the CLIR CCEPS fellows–myself included–presented to library staff and friends. Each presentation was interesting and highlighted the variety of experiences people had throughout the duration of their time with the fellowship. After the presentations, the floor was open to questions from the audience. During that time, someone asked about the process of assigning particular subject terms as a way to push some of those categories to fit new modes of knowledge production. Particularly, the person asked if subject terms like “colonization” had been used. Here is my response to that question: I have been wrestling with that thought throughout my work on the CLIR CCEPS project. I am wary to apply those terms because in many ways it traps the information within an epistemological field that is ever-changing and is gaining popularity. Assigning those subject terms–like colonization–now can help current students, researchers and patrons obtain that information. However, the online data will last forever, and therefore all of the subject terms assigned to that document will be linked to it permanently. It’s incredibly hard to think about how to both push the metadata process to be more accommodating of particular kinds of knowledge production, especially those that work to critique structures of power, while simultaneously thinking about the implications of circumscribing certain documents within categories whose knowledge production and outcome we have yet to know. I will continue to ask myself, as I assign subject terms to metadata, what knowledge is this producing and what knowledge is it obscuring?