A Measure of Care

A Measure of Care is a set of projects that look at representation in the Library of Congress' collections. I searched the library's catalog for notable people who only just received their obituaries in the New York Times’s recently launched “Overlooked” feature to see how they fared in the world's largest library.

You can visit A Measure of Care's main website here.

  • Interactive website and installation that displays “Overlooked” individuals and the ways they might be missing or hard to find in the Library of Congress.

  • Internet browser extension that inserts one of these individuals, Qiu Jin, as a speculative exhibit on the Library of Congress' homepage.

  • Zine about my research process while using the online collections.

  • Open data set available on Github.

  • Open invitation to collaborate on all of the above.
     

Role: Concept development, research, data collection, interaction design, fabrication, and workshop facilitation.

Tools: HTML, Javascript, CSS, spreadsheet, JSON, Arduino, buttons, foam core, projector.

Project Components

The Story Behind the Project

I built this project as part of a graduate course in which students designed interactive projects on top of the collections of the Library of Congress. 

 

The class (syllabus here) was taught by Jer Thorp, who was recently the Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress’ Labs team.

 

During the course we had amazing opportunities to speak directly with librarians and visit the Library of Congress in person.

For example, I was fortunate enough to get advice from Meg Metcalf, the LOC’s Librarian and Women's, Gender, and LGBTQ+/Sexuality Studies Specialist and Recommending Officer. In talking with Meg, I became more familiar with how to search the online catalogs and better appreciate the ways in which sources might not be apparent upon initial searches, or may not be described in the catalog at all. 

My Inspiration

The LOC is the world’s largest library with 168 million items. The LOC states that the “these collections are the single most comprehensive accumulation of human expression ever assembled.”

However, there are limitations built into this claim. Space constraints, curators’ decisions, budget availability, and larger societal priorities determine what goes into a collection. In addition, a subject might not be findable because it is not even written about yet.

Understanding what is missing in a collection is difficult. For example, a library search will return only what is available, not what is missing. What are these gaps, and do they accumulate into larger patterns?

These gaps might tell a more self-aware and authentic story of the LOC, and therefore the United States and the world. Exploring what is missing can lead to reflection, a change in perspective, and potentially change.

The Project

I set out to design an interaction for people to understand what the repercussions are of missing or hard to find people in the LOC’s collections.  I decided to use the New York Times’ “Overlooked” obituary feature, in which notable people are given obituaries for the first time beginning in 2018.

I wondered how these people fared in the Library of Congress.They were already missing obituaries in the New York Times until 2018. … How easy or hard were they to find in the LOC, or were they missing entirely?

I answered these questions by searching the LOC myself, documenting my research process and findings, and making them interactive in a few of ways.

1. Interactives and Research Findings

Website format.

Installation format.

Main Interactive

The main interactive shows the individuals featured in “Overlooked” with their image, names, years, and a short bio. 

 

The interaction design centers around individuals fading away when visitors select a question such as “Who is in the Library of Congress at all?” Individuals who slowly disappear symbolize the absence or difficulty of finding individuals in the collections, and potentially reflect a weaker position in our collective memory.

Research Findings

For example, Bessie Blount (1914 - 2009) was an inventor of healthcare equipment and forensic handwriting expert, among many other things. She is not findable in the LOC catalog.

On the other hand, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet and writer, is very findable in the LOC catalog with many entries. However, her main subject heading (the subject under which an item will be listed) is inconsistently applied to works by or about her. This irregular pattern can make it difficult to find sources one would otherwise never find without a common subject heading. 

My research suggests there is a common trend between notable individuals not receiving their obituaries in The New York Times until 2018, and how findable or missing they are in the world's largest library.

 

Despite this trend, it will take more research to determine exactly why in each case an individual may or may not exist in the collections, why they are not findable at first, or whether or not they are as "findable" as a more famous and privileged counterpart. A mixture of factors at the library and anywhere else similar contribute to this factor, including both internal (people's acquisition decisions, people's database structures) and external (whether people write or document topics at all).

 

What is interesting to me is discovering the invisible results of searching the online collections, and how that may or may not contribute downstream to the stories we tell ourselves.

Chrome Extension

Internet browser extension inserting a speculative exhibit about Qiu Jin, China's Joan of Arc.

I also prototyped a browser extension that adds one of these people to the homepage of the Library of Congress on your own computer. This is the start of how I  might let others directly alter representation on the Library of Congress’ website itself in a way that is in dialog with one of the most prominent locations in which the library defines itself. I hope to release these sometime in the near future.

2. A Zine About My Research Process

My short zine, found here, captures some of research process , which took hours of searching multiple portals of the online collections of the LOC.  

In some ways, my research process is more significant to me than the other outcomes.

 

Researching the collections is how I use absence or inaccessibility to describe a more honest and productive identity of the Library of Congress’ collections. Articulating what is missing or hard to find also mirrors larger trends in global histories of the past and today. 

3. Open Dataset

All of my catalog research is held in this spreadsheet, which is available on Github. The data is turned into JSON which powers the interactive website.

These are some of the questions I asked while searching online catalog for 16 of the individuals in “Overlooked”:

  • Are they in the Library of Congress at all?

  • Do they have a Subject Heading?

  • How many items are there?

  • Are any of these items actually by this person?

  • Do they have a Name Authority File?

  • Do they have a Finding Aid?

4. Collaborations

I’m interested in collaborating on this dataset with others.

 

Possibilities might include adding the recently added individuals to the “Overlooked” feature, discussing who else to add to the dataset, building the criteria used to define what types of notable people are included, fact-checking existing and future research, and I’m open to other directions.

Please find my contact information on my About page.

 

Looking forward to connecting!

I’m interested in collaborating on this dataset with others.

 

Possibilities might include adding the recently added individuals to the “Overlooked” feature, discussing who else to add to the dataset, building the criteria used to define what types of notable people are included, fact-checking existing and future research, and I’m open to other directions.

Please find my contact information on my About page.

 

Looking forward to connecting.

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