Measure of Care - Library Data Interactive

A Measure of Care examines whether a set of notable people are found in the Library of Congress.

 

Figures include Qiu Jin, known as China’s ‘Joan of Arc,’ and Ida B. Wells, one of the nation’s most influential investigative reporters. This group was selected from the New York Times' "Overlooked" series, which gives obituaries to people for the first time.

The project features the following parts:

  • Open data set of my findings based on many hours of searching the library’s archives.

  • Interactive website and digital touch interactive that allow you to explore and discuss my findings.

  • Printed zine about my research process and collectible cards of featured notable individuals.

  • A workshop model to define the values that determine which figures are included in A Measure of Care.

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Visitors interacting with the physical installation of  A Measure of Care.

Role: Concept, research, data collection, coding, interaction design, installation, and fabrication.

Tools: JSON, spreadsheet, HTML/CSS, Javascript, Arduino, enclosure, projector.

Context: Created in a course at NYU ITP called “Artists in the Archive” taught by Jer Thorp.

Timeline: 2 months.

My Role

The New York Times' "Overlooked" series (left); the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (right).

I was in a graduate course where we built projects using the Library of Congress’ collections. I decided to search for people who only recently received their obituaries in the New York Times’ “Overlooked” series. I searched for 16 people from this series.

  • Essentially, I compared two data sets to find who is missing from or how findable these figures are in the Library of Congress’ collections. 
     

  • More broadly, I explored how representation and “findability” influence critical aspects of what we can find, learn about, and incorporate into our world view.

What Was I Trying to Address?


The Library of Congress is the “single most comprehensive accumulation of human expression ever assembled.”

Yet what is missing in the Library of Congress’s collection? A library search will return only what is available, not what is missing. 

Of everything in the collections, what is absent, what is included, and what are the reasons why?

 

I identified answers to these questions by searching for a specific set of people who are traditionally overlooked yet arguably more notable than more famous counterparts.

I ultimately came to the conclusion that a more accurate and self-aware story of an institution is possible by 1) accounting for what is missing or not as well represented, and 2) communicating those gaps to constituents and stakeholders.

What Was the Result?

People reacting to A Measure of Care.

PEOPLE'S REACTIONS

People were surprised, curious, chastened and even insulted when they saw who was missing or difficult to find in the library’s collections. 

  • For example, many people gasped in surprise when they realized certain figures did not have their own works in the Library of Congress.
     

  • Others wanted to talk more about what it meant if an individual's Subject Heading was missing. (Subject Headings organize works by topic and make things more findable.) We were able to talk about how seemingly dry details exert power over what we can find, learn about, and incorporate into our world view. 

RESEARCH FINDINGS

Here are two highlights:

  • Bessie Blount (1914 - 2009) is not findable in the library’s catalog. She was an inventor of important healthcare equipment and a talented forensic handwriting expert, among many other things.

    Is Blount’s absence an indication that works do exist about her, but the library hasn’t acquired them? Or that few people have written about her? Are we comfortable with either possibility?

     

  • On the other hand, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), poet and writer, is very findable in the catalog. Yet her main Subject Heading (her name) is inconsistently applied, which makes it hard to find other works about her. Interestingly, if you follow the subject headings for depression and suicide, you can find works about Plath that you can’t find using her name as a Subject Heading.

    Is Plath's depression and suicide more important than her writing, and why is this?

Project Components

OPEN DATA SET & RESEARCH

Data set in a spreadsheet, read by JSON and displayed in the browser. Also available on Github.

  • I collected data by spending hours searching portals of the Library of Congress’ online collections. My findings are in a spreadsheet on Github that anyone can use or add to.
     

  • A few of the questions I asked were:
     

  • 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?

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COMPANION WEBSITE

Online version of A Measure of Care.

  • You can use my website here to experience yourself the answers to these questions. 

DIGITAL TOUCH INTERACTIVE

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Digital touch interactive display of A Measure of Care

  • With a digital interactive, people could interact in person.
     

  • The main interaction centered around “disappearing” each notable person who did not appear in search results. The interaction was made possible by physical computing, fabrication, and projection.
     

  • For example, if you pressed a button to ask the question “Who has their own works in the Library of Congress?” eight of twelve people completely fade away, when most of these people have works that could be acquired by the LOC. If it doesn’t make sense for the LOC to acquire their works, how does any institution make clear that their absence is not a comment on their importance?

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ZINE & COLLECTIBLE CARDS

  • My zine explained my research process. A zine was better than more wall text since it was a small exhibit - people only spent so much time at the installation. People could take the zine home to learn more. You can read it here.
     

  • Printed cards of each notable person were available for people to choose and take with them.These helped treat each figure as someone special.

Zine about my research process and collectible cards of notable figures.

SPECULATIVE EXHIBITS USING BROWSER EXTENSION

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Speculative exhibit of Qui Jin inserted by my browser extension.

  • Anyone could display speculative exhibits on the Library of Congress’ website by using my browser extension to insert HTML into the.
     

  • For example, I inserted an exhibit about Qiu Jin, known as China’s ‘Joan of Arc.’
     

  • This browser can be expanded to include all figures in the “Overlooked” series.

WORKSHOPS

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A workshop about how to decide who to include or prioritize over others.

  • Ultimately, who was I to decide which figures should be included in A Measure of Care? I assume a similar responsibility of the Library of Congress when I become curator of who to include or not.
     

  • I workshopped this decision framework with other people. How would the decisions change depending on who was included?
     

  • This series of workshops can be expanded to various people and groups.

What’s Next?

I’m interested in collaborating with others on this data set.

 

Next steps include adding more notable people to the data set, whether from the New York Times “Overlooked” series or in conversation with other people or groups.