Shadow Libraries

The term sounds like a fantasy novel institution: shadow library. To the extent that one provides access to large amounts of knowledge while lurking on the outskirts of mainstream society, on the brink—okay, over the edge—of what is legal, a shadow library is exactly like it sounds: a place to access books and media that might otherwise be inaccessible to you. However, rather than a structure built in the sewers of a city or in a castle on the edge of a cliff, these libraries exist in plain sight online. I first came across the concept while reading a Bloomberg Law article, which describes how sites drew attention recently on social media, particularly Tiktok (you can find examples here, here, and here) (Setty, 2022). The piece goes on to explain that the libraries are not protected under fair use law, as they allow permanent downloads, however bringing these cases to court proves to be difficult due to problems establishing jurisdiction and the evasive nature of shifting domain names (Setty, 2022). 

In his article “Gamifying piracy: functions and users of the Z-library” (2022), Zakayo Kjellström, a doctoral student at Umeå Universitet in Sweden, discusses the role of aesthetics and gamification in the success of shadow libraries. Particularly, he focuses on the Z-Library. Kjellström argues that the professional appearance of the website—which lacks an obvious manifesto on the launch page that many other similar sites have—hides its illegality (p. 352). In this instance, indicators of legitimacy can look like operational search functions, semantic design, and even color implementation. The seemingly legitimate interface (p. 352) combined with elements of play he describes as the crowdsourced uploading, metadata tagging, and blog interactions work together to create an environment rife for user production—all without rewards beyond perpetuation of system engagement (p. 368). Kjellström’s piece fascinatingly explores how the design and familiarity of knowledge organization systems can be exploited. 

Z-Library “librarian” leaderboard. Zakayo Kjellström for “Gamifying piracy,” p. 366.

This topic poses moral questions as well as grey areas for debate. While the law might be clear on where it stands when it comes to shadow libraries, rules ought to be carefully considered to ensure they represent the ideals of a society and why; where do we draw the line? These sites come with tempting manifestos that preach ideals like “knowledge to all” and “remove all barriers in the way of science” (Kjellström, p. 353, 2022). For populations that do not have access to public libraries, higher education, or the money necessary to buy knowledge, shadow libraries seem to fill a need. This need increasingly calls to be addressed as deadly misinformation permeates discourse, particularly when it comes to the fields of science. I acknowledge that the websites extend well beyond this ethical battle and can be used simply to illegally share the newest Ali Hazelwood novel and I also do not condone copyright infringement or the illegal sharing of content. However, the ideologies of profit as opposed to equitable access call out from the shadows to ask: which is more important?

Written by Autumn Brown


Angelica🤓. [@thatrelatablestudent]. (2021, Dec. 16). you’ll need to sign up to download it as PDF and that’s it, you’ll find all the best books out there!🥰 #freebooks #download #learnontiktok cr: @judyferas. Tiktok.

Cool Websites [@web_list]. (2022, July 19). LIbrary of scientific articles for free #powerfullwebsites #getthisviral #omg. Tiktok.

Drew Ford • Think Better. [@Drewxford]. (n.d.). I put my fav shirt on so ik this video won’t flop. And my apologies if the sound is a little too loud/quiet in certain parts 😅#personaldevelopment #readmore #booktok. Tiktok.

Kjellström, Z. (2022). Gamifying piracy: functions and users of the Z-library. Journal of Documentation, 78(7), 351–370.

Setty, Riddhi. (2022, October 19). Rampant ‘Shadow Libraries’ Drive Calls for Anti-Piracy Action. Bloomberg Law.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Born Digital, Cataloging, Libraries, Open Access

Walking through Westsider

If you’re walking on New York’s Upper West Side there are so many businesses, you might not notice the small green awning that says “BOOKS”, but when you do notice it and step inside, it’s a wonderland for book lovers.

Westsider Books via

Westsider Books is a tiny bookstore filled to the brim with all kinds of books. You enter the small store and immediately the smell of old books fills your nose. This is my favorite bookstore in New York, and I try to make the trek from my apartment in Brooklyn as much as I can. One thing I enjoy about the store is that you never know what you’re going to find, they don’t seem to have a catalog of any kind. The books on the shelves are organized by genre and author’s last name, but other than that there’s not much organization. The hardcovers are in a different place than paperbacks, and there are dollar books on shelves outside of the store. Other than that, there’s not much organization, which is part of the magic of the store. There are two layers of books on almost every shelf, with one book behind the other, and there are also piles of books on the steps. There’s a ladder for customers to use to browse the top shelves, and it’s easy to lose a day going through all the titles.

On my last trip there a customer asked the person working the register for a book, and they seemed surprised when the cashier said she wasn’t sure if they had the book, but it wasn’t likely since it’s a new book. There was no way to confirm since there doesn’t seem to be a catalog of any kind.

In 2019, Westsider Books was set to close. When the news got out a crowdfunding campaign was started, and it raised enough money for the store to keep its doors open.

While I personally enjoy the mystery of going through the shelves, one does wonder if the creation of the catalog would allow the store to keep its doors open longer, and bring in more business. As we learn more about cataloging, it’s easy to see the value of cataloging the books at a store like Westsider. However, it’s also easy to see the challenges. Cataloging a collection of this size, which has little organization, would be quite the undertaking. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they cataloged even part of the store, and if it would help the store to be able to tell potential customers if books are available or not.


-Maddie Lane, INFO 653-01

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Books, Cataloging

New Old Book Collectors

Earlier this year the New York Times interviewed a number of members of the next generation of antique and rare booksellers aka the “new old book collectors.” While our class has mostly focused discussion on libraries and other public institutions, it was interesting to see almost all the same themes in discussions among private collectors. As younger collectors and booksellers join the market their interests and values shape what is collected and preserved and how it is organized. A more diverse collector and seller group means more diversity in the narratives and objects that are preserved. According to Rebecca Romney, co-founder of the rare book firm Type Punch Matrix and book specialist on the show Pawn Stars, collecting is “an exercise in autobiography.” People like to collect things that they can personally connect with so a larger and more diverse group of collectors increases the chances that collections include different voices and narratives. 

Michael Suarez, the director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia can also attest that the industry is changing. He told the Times that his current student population is younger, less male, and more socioeconomically diverse than it was ten years ago. The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association is also embracing this change with a diversity initiative started in 2020 to encourage L.G.T.B.Q, BIPOC, and other underrepresented groups to participate in the world of book collecting. Private collectors have more freedom than librarians and archivists looking to build public institutions. The article gave some examples of very specific collections based on the collector’s unique interests like works related to black equestrians or cowboy history.

 As we continue to look at the Dewey Decimal System and LOC subject headings through the eyes of critical cataloging it’s important to also think about the contents of a collection, not just its organization. 

Link to the article:

-Gracey Hellstrom 653-01

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Archives, Books, Preservation

Board Games, Ancient Stars, and Seeds — Oh My!

I am very much interested in the ways “nontraditional” library materials (anything outside of books and DVDs) can be categorized and cataloged. When looking into recent news in cataloging, a few different articles caught my attention. As a board game enthusiast, it’s very exciting to hear that the Kalona library in Iowa has introduced board games into its collection. They already have around 40 items, the loans last a week, and an inventory checklist is referenced in order to maintain all the pieces in a game. Families came to my mind right away; this addition to the library is a great way to service the community.

Photo of board game display at Kalona Public Library courtesy of submission in McCain article.

Another headline that caught my eye (in not one, but two articles!) was the finding of astronomer Hipparchus’ star catalog in a Medieval manuscript, part of what is believed to be the first mapping of the night sky. Shadows of earlier writings were visible behind the Christian texts of the manuscript. With multispectral imaging highlighting the hidden text and deciphering done by science historians, there is now evidence that Hipparchus was trying to measure coordinates of all visible stars. Of course, stars are a beautiful wonder to behold. I think the same can be said about the fact that we still have access to a precious document from so long ago (~129 BC according to the Marchant article). 

Illustration of ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, courtesy of NASTASIC/DIGITALVISION VECTORS/GETTY.

Last but certainly not least, I came across an article referencing Carlsbad Public Library’s seed catalog. I remembered making a note of Professor Pattuelli mentioning a “library of seeds” all the way back in Week Two, during our class on September 7. It made me think of George Miller’s 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road. For those unfamiliar, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where the earth has turned too dry to grow anything. An elderly female character keeps with her a bag full of seeds, seeds for trees, flowers, and fruit. (I was actually able to find the scene on Youtube!) I won’t spoil the ending for anyone (although it came out quite a while ago), but the movie does a great job at highlighting the importance of this bag of seeds, this precious carry-on catalog. It’s wonderful that something like this, something even greater than a small bag, exists for communities to access. Libraries and their powers to catalog so many different, wonderful, cherished items feel like the magic world of Oz (hence my title reference!).

— Liv Baerga [INFO 653-01]


Grossman, L. (7 November 2022). Part of a lost, ancient star catalog has now been found. Science News.

Jones, S. (31 October 2022). A card catalog full of seeds. Carlsbad Current-Argus.

Marchant, J. (18 October 2022). First known map of night sky found hidden in Medieval parchment. Nature.

McCain, K. (8 November 2022). Kalona library opens checkout for board games. Southeast Iowa Union.

Miller, George. (2015). Mad Max: Fury Road [Film Mad Max: Fury Road].

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Libraries

Biological Taxonomy and the Illusion of Trees

Image courtesy of the World Forestry Center

As we discussed taxonomy in class a few weeks ago, I was reminded of something I read a while back about trees. As I am sure we all know, all life on Earth is divided up into various ranks, which are called taxa. At the top are domains – originally kingdoms were the highest rank, but Archaera and Bacteria are separated into their own domains. The remaining domain – Eukarya, contains all animals, plants, fungi, and a few other lesser-known categories. Going all the way down we get to species, such as ourselves, Homo sapiens. Species are an easy way to think about types of life, but any of the taxonomic ranks can be used to discuss species with shared characteristics. We all understand what a pigeon is (technically a rock dove, or Columba livia), but we also understand that a pigeon, a blue jay, a seagull, and a bald eagle are all members of the class Aves (birds). Many such categories at all levels of the taxonomic tree are used colloquially to help us understand connections between living things.

It is an innate part of our nature to categorize things, and the taxonomic tree is the result of centuries of refining these characteristics. While there are individual cases that can cause headaches (such as the platapus), everything ultimately finds its place. But for this blog post, I would like to focus on a collection of species that is almost universally assumed to have its own defined taxonomic characteristics, but in reality defies categorization on nearly every level – and that collection is what we refer to as trees.

If any of us were asked to define a bird, we would probably list characteristics such as flight, wings, beaks, and feathers, and egg-laying. Scientific definitions are a little more precise, and not every bird actually has all of those listed characteristics in the first place. For instance, there are many flightless birds. There are also animals such as bats which have wings and use them to fly, but are not birds. At the same time, a lot of these characteristics are used for the actual scientific classification – feathers, hard-shelled eggs, and beaks are all considered essential parts of the categorization, alongside less commonly thought-of traits such as four-chambered hearts and high metabolisms. Even if we do not know by heart everything that makes a bird a bird, the majority of people have a strong enough understanding of the characteristics of one to know a bird when they see it without any room for ambiguity.

Two distinct, yet unmistakable birds. Images from and Wikipedia.

How do trees fit into this discussion? Consider the essential elements of a tree. You would probably say that it has to have a tree trunk, branches, leaves, and bark. You may add that they generally grow quite tall, although there are a fair number of exceptions to that rule. But how do scientists classify trees? The shortest answer is that in taxonomic terms, trees do not exist as their own category. Running through the important characteristics, size is often used to distinguish trees from shrubs, but this alone does not define a tree (there are certainly tall non-tree plants).

Another commonly used trait in categorizing tree is the bark, or the “woodiness” of trees. Wood is certainly something that helps set them aside from other tall growths or flowering plants. However, banana trees do not have wood – instead their “trunks” are closer to stems and held together by water pressure. There are also trees such as balsa trees which have thinner wood and significantly different cellular structure than what we normally think of. Rings in the wood of trees is also often considered an essential feature, but palm trees do not have any rings, even if their trunks do superficially resemble other common types of trees.

Not your typical tree, and yet still a tree. Image from Brittanica.

The type of growth which leads to tree rings, which is known as secondary growth, is arguably the closest thing to a defining feature which scientists agree on. One could argue that plants with such growth could be considered “true trees,” and leave plants such as banana trees or palm trees out of this category as their own weird exceptions. But this brings in the further question of the purpose of classification. Palm trees fill a niche in their native ecosystems that is largely analogous to the roles more “traditional” trees fill in a European forest. It has been noted by scientists that the overall size and structure of a tree has multiple significant evolutionary advantages. Their size allows them to soak up the first line of sunlight in their area, as well as allowing for wide dispersal of seeds. The various types of bark provide great protection against both animals and bacteria. As such it is understandable how multiple evolutionary paths lead to trees as a form of plant.

Perhaps this is less a discussion about the flaws of scientific classification, so much as it is about the limitations of relying on such a system. The weird yet undeniable conclusion is that we all understand what a tree is without ever being taught these rules. If something looks like a tree and acts like a tree, why should the type of bark determine the actual category it falls into? Either way, it is clear that we cannot solely rely on taxonomy to develop an understanding of the natural world. Even if our tendencies to see non-existant patterns are not always helpful, this seems to be a case where it allows us to observe an otherwise hidden principle of our world. Who could imagine a world without trees?

-Dylan Granger, INFO 653-01


What Makes a Tree a Tree? – Knowable Magazine

What is a Tree? – University of Miami

What Genes Make a Tree a Tree? – Andrew Groover

Tree – Wikipedia

Tree Classification – Arbor Day Foundation

What is a Tree? – Michael Kuhns

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Classification

The Free Fall Research Page

The Free Fall Research Page is a collection of free fall stories put together by Jim Hamilton on his Green Harbor website. The stories collected are of people who have fallen from extraordinary heights and survived.

The falls have been sorted into categories: “Free Fallers”, “Wreckage Riders”, “Unlucky Skydivers”, and “Other Amazing Stories”. There is also an “Incident Log”, where unsolved mysteries and recent incidents are placed and Jim solicits additional information on specific incidents. 

Illustration by Jim Hamilton, Copyright 2022, Green Harbor Publications

The category “Free Fallers” covers airmen who fell completely free, no parachute, not clinging to aircraft wreckage, nothing. “Wreckage Riders” are people who survived long falls while staying with the wreckage of a destroyed aircraft. “Unlucky Skydivers” are people who did have a parachute, but the parachute did not deploy properly. Like many a cataloger before him, Jim Hamilton found himself with several stories that did not fit into a neat category, and so “Other Amazing Stories” is the equivalent of miscellaneous.

I’m not sure how Hamilton chooses to sort the stories in each category. It doesn’t seem to be alphabetical or chronological, it may just be the order in which things were added, though knowing Jim, it could be sorted by what he finds most exciting.

Additional sections of the website talk about how to survive a free fall, facts and math regarding the speed of a fall, fictional falls and record holding falls. Another page has recommended reading. A comprehensive questions section (not to be confused with an FAQ!) has answers to things such as “When should the pilot drop a flour sack to get it to hit a target?”, or “Will a bullet fired and a bullet dropped from the same height hit the ground at the same time?”. Hamilton also has a thoughtful response to the question of the veracity of his website and openly invites feedback.

Is this site peer reviewed?
No, this site is not peer reviewed. The person who asked this was wondering if he should trust the information on this site. Not quite sure how to answer. This material is posted here free of charge for your amusement. You don’t have to trust it. Sometimes we get things wrong, but for the most part we believe the information to be mostly trustworthy. If the Free Fall Research page had a slogan it might be something like “98% accurate and worth every penny you paid.” In fact, our sponsor, Green Harbor Publications does have a slogan: “Interesting Stuff…No Advertising”

One of the things that I find incredibly charming about the Free Fall website is how much Jim’s enthusiasm for the subject comes through, it’s infectious. It first crossed my path as Jim and I were in a graphic novel intensive course together. He’s spent years on this research and is now putting together a collection in comic format. You can catch a few glimpses on his instagram.

— Sara Sarmiento (INFO-653-01)

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Classification

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Visual Classifications at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cooling Towers (Wood), 1976, Bernd and Hilla Becher as seen on view in the exhibition

Throughout our recent conversations on classification, I couldn’t help but think of Bernd & Hilla Becher. The duo was recently the subject of a retrospective held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are famous for their photographic typologies of industrial structures. Their photographs are typically arranged in grids sorted by the form of their contents, ranging from water towers to coal plants. Every image is black and white, taken head-on in overcast weather. The sharpness of the photographs, shot on large-format cameras, capture every little detail of the structures.

Woodpeckers, Field Museum collections. Photo by Shane DuBay and Carl Fuldner

The Bechers’ observational and analytical work is closely related to scientific inquiry, which has long collected and classified specimens of the same type in order to study in comparison to each other. Take for example, this collection of woodpeckers from the Field Museum in Chicago. (If you are obsessed with typologies like myself, I highly recommend reading through this blog by Diana Zlatanovski, Museologist at Harvard’s Peabody Museum). Instead of birds, the Bechers collect water towers. This influence of natural sciences is evident even in Hilla Becher’s early photographs. The exhibition featured several of her photographs of leaves in juxtaposition to scientific illustrations from 1904.

Images (from left to right): [Tulip Tree Leaf], 1965, Hilla Becher; Ernst Haeckel, “Hexacoralla. — Sechsstrahlige Sternkorallen,” Kunstformen der Natur (Leipzig and Vienna: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904); [Oak Leaf], 1965, Hilla Becher

In her review of the exhibition, Julia Curl relates the Bechers’ practice specifically to the Enlightenment’s motivation to organize the world, and emphasizes its complicated history in regards to classification. She states:

Their typologies evoke the Age of Enlightenment’s impulse toward taxonomy and classification, its desire to scientifically categorize reality. At the same time, the grids are haunted by a perversion of this trend, which measured the circumference of human skulls, reduced human beings to hierarchical orders, and, in World War II, industrialized the process of murder. Despite the Bechers’ problematic treatment of Nazism as the Past-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, it is no coincidence that they witnessed the imagery of fascism and concluded the opposite: there is no “ideal” water tower.

Julia Curl for Hyperallergic

This leads to a broader conversation about the role photography has played as a tool of classification. Photography as a medium is highly technical. It is a mechanical process that captures exactly what is seen before the lens at the exact moment the shutter is clicked. As such, it supposedly captures an objective reality which can then be studied and used as evidence. Photographic classification is different from bibliographic classification in that categories are drawn by visual characteristics, unbound by spoken and written language but occasionally supported by it. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s framework houses, for instance, may be titled “Framework Houses” but even without this context, the classification would remain as the imagery does the heavy lifting.

Framework Houses, 1959–1972, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel & Alan Mark, © Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

Like the typologies of a criminal we studied in class, I’m sure there are many more cases in which photography has functioned maliciously in order to justify harmful classifications of humans by race, gender, or culture. It is important to remember that while the Bechers’ typologies seem objective, this is far from the case. Every time they frame a structure, they are consciously taking a particular viewpoint and choosing to emphasize particular features over others. Even the field of scientific inquiry itself is not objective. When discussing classificatory warrant in “Social Influences on Classification,” Hope Olson states. “[scientific inquiry] is not culturally neutral, in that it selects some particular characteristics as basis and ignores others” (2010, p. 4806). Classification thus always includes and excludes simultaneously, just as a photographer chooses which direction to point their camera and the context in which to place the images.

Gas Tanks (Germany, Belgium, United States, and Great Britain), 1965–92, Bernd and Hilla Becher, as seen on view in the exhibition

Curl also discusses a recent criticism of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work which is that it is detached and impersonal. This reaction is likely due to the strict visual code they employ which is highly sterile, but also crucial for successfully utilizing the typology format. Personally, I think this criticism also has to do with how we perceive ourselves in the work. Originality is non-existent in the Bechers’ photographed world. When related to our own lives in a culture where individualism is valued, this can be disheartening. After all, if water towers from all over the world are so similar to each other then we must not be as unique as we thought we were. The beauty of the Bechers’ work, however, is in the variations. My personal favorite is their series of gas tanks, which have to expand and collapse in order to safely hold their flammable contents. To me, the position of the tanks acts a marker of time and gives each of the structures its own personal character. There may be no ideal gas tank, but we can still appreciate each one’s distinct features in a world of similarity.

-Alyse Delaney, INFO 653-01


Becher, B., & Becher, H. (2022). Bernd & Hilla Becher. [Photography] Exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art July 15 – November 6, 2022.

Bernd & Hilla Becher. (n.d.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from

Curl, J. (2022, November 2). Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Misunderstood Oeuvre. Hyperallergic.

Olsen, H. A. (2010) Social Influences on Classification. Encyclopedia of Library and
Information Sciences. Third Edition. Taylor & Francis. 4806-4812

Image Credits

Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel & Alan Mark

Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur—Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne. 

Joyce F. Menschel Library, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Woodpeckers, Field Museum collections. Photo by Shane DuBay and Carl Fuldner

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Classification, Museums

Project 562: Decolonizing Indigenous Photography

In my junior year of undergrad, a woman named Matika Wilbur came to speak at our Convocation ceremony. Matika Wilbur is a photographer from the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, and ten years ago, she sold everything in her apartment in Seattle and began to trek all over the country to document all 562 federally recognized tribes in the US – at the time she began the project, there were 562. Now, there are 573 federally recognized tribes. She travels in her RV called Big Girl. She takes photos of people from each tribe – it’s sort of a Humans of New York-type of collection, where she talks to the people she meets and writes little blurbs about the interaction and the person. Sometimes, the people are dressed in traditional regalia of their respective tribes, and sometimes, they’re wearing denim and flannel. She strives for authenticity, and it shows.

The thing that strikes me about her photos is just how dynamic they are. Typically, when you think of Indigenous photography and archives, you think of cultures long since defunct, and you marvel over woven baskets from cultures that “don’t exist anymore.” You think of those old sepia or black and white photos of Native American men in profile looking stoic yet somber, in intricate feathered headdresses. The nature of the photographs makes them feel lifeless. They were taken by colonizers who don’t attempt to convey humanity in their subjects.

This photo (from Wikimedia Commons) is titled “Native Americans from Southeastern Idaho” and was taken by Dutch-born photographer Benedicte Wrensted circa 1897. While a beautiful photograph, it does little to express any details about the subject. We don’t know the name of this man or what tribe he belonged to.

Project 562 aims to shift this romanticized and sterilized image of Native America. Matika’s project contains so much life in it, as it documents cultures and tribes that are very much extant – tribes that continue to practice centuries old customs while adopting new traditions in the process. Very often, the subjects of Matika’s photos are multi-generational, emphasizing the importance of passing down traditions. I remember my ethnic studies professor in undergrad, Brigetta Miller, saying how important Matika’s work was to her as an Indigenous scholar. She mentioned how Matika’s work was “substituting the historical distortions and fixed images of the past for the truth…raising visibility for the historic erasure that has happened, sharing the many parts of our culture that often don’t make it into the history books,” (Miller 2019). For so long, Indigenous stories were (and often still are) told by white ethnographers. That is why this project is so special. By having Indigenous stories told by Indigenous people, we are exposed to more perspectives than we are used to. Matika talks to women and children and teens and two-spirit individuals and people who are LGBTQ+, and that is a perspective that has been severely lacking.

Oftentimes, indigeneity is seen as a monolith, where traditions from tribes are merged together to form an easy to digest yet exotic picture of Native America. Project 562 turns that notion on its head. By documenting every single tribe in the United States, Matika shows the similarities, yes, but also the vast differences between cultures. In this thoughtful method of photography and documentation, she maintains a pan-Native America solidarity while celebrating each individual community.

A large focus of this project is language as well. Because traditional archives usually portray everything in English, Matika recognizes how important it is to tell stories in their own languages. In an article in Yes Magazine, Matika reveals she is “dreaming about a modern world that doesn’t erase its Indigenous intelligence, but rather embraces the rich complexity of Indigenous culture.” (Wilbur, 2018).

“I keep having these recurring dreams where I’m on a plane or train and all the people around me, Native and non-Native, are speaking different Indigenous languages. I hear Paiute, Lashootseed, Diné, Catawba, and they’re feeding their babies wild rice and smoked fish. I’m dreaming about a modern world that doesn’t erase its Indigenous intelligence, but rather embraces the rich complexity of Indigenous culture.”

Matika Wilbur “I’m Dreaming About a Modern World That Doesn’t Erase Its Indigenous Intelligence” Yes! Magazine. Feb 19, 2018

I think the field of archives and knowledge organization can learn a lot from Matika’s approach to cataloging. Telling stories that Native Americans want to tell, humanizing an often dehumanized people, preserving traditions and cultures in a dynamic and holistic manner. These are all values that we should strive to make a reality in archives.

Matika Wilbur (right) and her mother, Nancy, who is from the Swinomish tribe in the Pacific Northwest. Image from Yes! Magazine.

Check out Project 562 Gallery

Check out this article on Matika’s photography

-Simone Levy

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Cataloging

An Archive of Theater on Film and Tape

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is one of four research libraries connected to the NYPL system and one of only two providing circulation services. It also offers circulation services to the public, which is uncommon for research libraries. At this branch, you can borrow movies, music, and books covering performing arts topics. If you ask me, a step up from movie rental places like Blockbuster, there are no rental fees to worry about, and they even offer computers to consume the media. I recently began working at this branch and found its unique functions and services intriguing. It has been quite an experience learning the dewy decimal system hands-on and hearing other staff express their frustration with the imperfection in the system thanks to constant updates to Dewy classification and no direct guidance on how to implement those changes institution-wide, which has led to hiccups in cataloging materials. Even so, the library is an enigma of creativity, hosting exhibitions of particular artists, creators, and collections. My favorite library use is its Theater on Film and Tape Archive. Being a drama nerd and a broke graduate student, I know the struggle of being unable to afford broadway tickets and having to find other means to watch the shows that become cultural phenomenons. The Libraries recordings are not open access for circulation but are available for the research department and easily accessed with a research account at the NYPL and an appointment. I’d highly recommend looking into the services provided at this branch if you’re interested in a better understanding of various mediums’ cataloging materials using the Dewy Decimal System or exploring music, movies, and performance recordings. From The Music Man to SpongeBob the Musical, there are numerous shows in their collections. There is also currently an exhibit on the work of Lou Reed, which features previously unseen and unheard work from his archive.

Image of the room where patrons can view recorded material from the research department of the library, retrieved from:

More information on the Theater on Film and Tape Archive: 

-Beth Grassmann 653-03

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

The Enron Corpus

Whether or not you’ve ever heard of them, a now-defunct company called Enron has changed the world around you.

Enron Corporation was a company based in Houston, Texas with a wide range of enterprises – most notably, energy. They received the title of “Most Innovative Company” six years in a row from Fortune, and in the year 2000 they reported over $100 billion in revenue. When they declared bankruptcy at the end of 2001, it was a massive surprise. At the time, this was the biggest bankruptcy ever, and it was completely out of the blue. The FBI conducted an inquiry; it quickly became their largest-ever white collar crime investigation.

It was found that Enron had numerous, complex instances of accounting fraud and insider trading. They had also lobbied for the deregulation of energy markets in California, and when the lobby succeeded, Enron subsequently created false energy shortages in order to take advantage of scarcity pricing. The latter crime was investigated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), who gathered their evidence in the form of memos — along with every email sent and received inside the company.

All email images are courtesy of

As the investigators combed through hundreds of thousands of emails, they were shocked and angered by the brazenness of those who had orchestrated these crimes. Remember, this was a time when email security was not a hot topic; employees had used their emails to coordinate their offenses.

In the interest of transparency (and perhaps partially out of spite), FERC investigators made the decision to release the emails to the public via the Internet. Thus, over five million emails (source) — personal and private, most of them mundane, but some salacious, and others incriminating — were available for the whole world to see.

This enormous collection of data had no organization at its very beginnings. It was a daunting 4 terabytes of text. Seeing the potential in such a unique trove of communication, however, one computer scientist purchased a copy of the corpus and released it to fellow researchers. To this day, it is the largest publicly-available resource for unfiltered human communications (and that, of course, has its own ethical controversies which are outside the scope of this post).

Quote by Finn Brunton provided via Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain’s website

Early on, that copy was pared down to approximately 600,000 emails sent by 158 of the top employees (now a mere 150 gigabytes of data!), and this ‘slice’ of the original whole is now referred to as the Enron Corpus. The data it contains has since been organized and processed in innumerable ways.

One project at UC Berkeley, for example, categorized the email by genre, information, topics, and tone. This kind of methodology and examination of the Enron Corpus was used in the development of AI speech and speech recognition services like Siri, and it was also the basis of auto-complete and auto-correct features. 

There are ethical concerns about the effects of this sampling of primarily white-collar — and primarily white male — speech causing linguistic and other implicit biases into the technologies and tools of our everyday lives. This was, after all, the heyday of sexist and racist email chains.

Another project by computer scientist Jeffrey Heer demonstrates how patterns emerge when the emails are mapped into a searchable visualization. Here, when the keyword ‘California’ is entered, we see larger (and likely ‘above-board’) projects emerge in pink. The smaller clusters in yellow — with only a select few members who are keeping communications to themselves — are useful for identifying key players in the scandals that brought down Enron.

Heer’s visualization project is hosted by the University of Washington’s Computer Science & Engineering community

I thought it was fascinating to consider how this heap of information can be organized in so many different ways and for so many different purposes. If you’d like to see the emails for yourself — organized by individual employee’s inboxes, if you were curious — here is the link. Or — if you’re feeling ambitious, you can sign up to receive a selection of them in chronological order to your very own inbox, where you may organize them however you see fit.

-Calista Donohoe (653-01)

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Classification, Open Data, Research Projects

by Hugh McLeod

Follow INFO 653 Knowledge Organization on
Pratt Institute School of Information