TILT #92 — fair use + weird energy = new historical librarian pals

If you are reading this and it’s April that means I’ve done an okay job trying to get newsletters out more frequently. 🎉 Today’s newsletter is more of an essay and a few links, hope that’s okay.

historical photo of a black male librarian in a suit talking to a classroom if kids of various races. He is standing by a record player. A flag with 48 stars hangs over him.
Librarian Spencer Shaw telling a story at Hartford Public School. Link to original.

This is an expansion of my “I’m adding photos to Wikipedia” story from the last newsletter. Wikipedia is one of my problematic faves, as you know. I am a person with some talents, but also some “weird energy,” which is different from talent. I enjoy making lists and crossing things off of them, working towards completing tasks, a “flow state” thing. I’ve dug around a lot in public domain collections — Library of Congress, NYPL, Florida Memory, National Library of Medicine — to add more images to Wikipedia.

However, with the exception of the Schomburg Center, most of these public domain images were of white people. This was maybe okay from an “every bit helps” perspective, but unsatisfying from a social justice perspective. One of the things that makes Wikipedia problematic is its lack of coverage of women and people of color. Many projects address this — Women in Red, WikiProject African diaspora, AfroCROWD, Art+Feminism — but it can always be improved.

I took advantage of fair use, my favorite part of copyright law, and Wikipedia’s rules about it. To repeat: if a person is deceased, you can use a copyrighted photo of them to illustrate their Wikipedia biography page as long as the image meets certain criteria and includes a fair use rationale. There are some nuanced bits to this, however, so I wrote a blog post about specifically how to do it. And I started adding images of BIPOC librarians, and learned about some fascinating people:

  • Music librarian Ruth Taiko Watanabe who taught music appreciation in an internment camp before finishing her PhD
  • Josefina del Toro Fulladosa who founded the first library school in Puerto Rico
  • Doña Dolores Chávez de Armijo who was State Librarian of New Mexico and won a state Supreme Court case in order to keep her job
  • Spencer Shaw, shown above, who was an epic storyteller, taught at my alma mater, and was a colleague of current ALA president Tracie Hall during his retirement

My favorite part of this, besides meeting all these historical librarians and helping make Wikipedia slightly better, is that it’s repeatable for people in any group — African American sportswomen, Cuban Chess players, Native American scientists — excellent starting points for edit-a-thons. The one wrinkle is that the Wikipedia categories include everyone, people who are living and people who are dead, and it’s fiddly to click through to figure out who is still alive, and who doesn’t already have a picture. However! Wikipedia is actually decent at metadata and has weird tools that can help.

Enter Petscan, basically the advanced search of Wikipedia, or one of them. Petscan will let you compose a query that is robust, with a results list that is bookmarkable or exportable. Here is my list of people who meet these criteria: in the category American librarians; not in the category Living people; with no image on their Wikipedia page. You can take a look at that query, and edit it to find things you might want to work on. I know not everyone’s idea of a good time while waiting out the pandamnit is a bunch of repetitive copying and pasting, but if it is, this can be your new jam.

Thanks to Violet Fox for talking to me about Wikipedia tools which set me on the path to figuring this out. If I can help you figure it out for your use case, let me know.

I mentioned, as part of my eternal tweeting about Wikipedia — that bad scans, particularly of people of color, do not do their subjects justice and contribute to general inequity issues. María Estorino kindly pointed me to the work of art historian Dr. Lyneise Williams. She studies the representation of people of color in the early 20th century and created the VERA Collaborative to advocate for culturally-responsible archival practices that don’t perpetuate this erasure.

Tweet that is linked with the text “Your sloppy technology choices are an equity issue. Have been finding images for Wikipedia pages about Black librarians. Poor scan quality is problematic, esp for for Black faces. Please compare Wallace Van Jackson from The Atlanta University Bulletin vs. http://Newspapers.com” and two images of a man one of which is legible and one of which is just a black blob.

An eternal question for voracious readers is, “How can I tell when an author I love has a new book out?” I follow some authors who publish on a schedule — Archer Mayor’s latest always comes out in October — but many authors don’t publish as regularly. Amazon and its abandoned colony Goodreads do this poorly. Following authors on Twitter kind of works. Some library catalogs can do this, I don’t think mine does. I have just found out about Bookfeed.io which will give you an RSS feed of just the most recently released book by a list of authors. Am trying it, will tell you how it works out.

Bookmark that is dark purple with the image of a squid on it and one end of the bookmark is cut into swirling tentacle shapes.

I love seeing authors who engage enthusiastically and authentically with their readers. K. M. Alexander has created thisamazing bookmark that is going in the “swag pack” with his latest book. He also wrote a really interesting and useful blog post on How to Create 18th Century Coastlines for Fantasy Maps.

This year may really be the year of the newsletter. I’m happily reading more newsletters than ever before. And while Substack’s business model is really kind of a scam, other platforms seem to be working out okay. I like TinyLetter. My new favorite newsletter is Library News This Week by Colleen Theisen. Mostly links, not too chatty, very regular. You’ll like it.

Also this is not a newsletter but Alex Brown’s live tweeting their reading of ALA’s State of America’s Libraries report is 🔥🔥🔥

Two tweets which can be read at the link, basically saying ALA’s take on banned books is not great.

Speaking of ALA, the Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA — the only unit within ALA that I pay extra money for — has been working on a resolutions archive showing all of the resolutions they’ve sponsored since 1970 and what has happened to them. It’s a fascinating look at the history of the more social justice-oriented arm of the organization.

Good reading this month. All of these are recommended, particularly Kim’s book which includes an interesting back and forth in the afterword with her translators discussing the nuances of discussing gender when translating from Korean into English.

combined covers of four books: Rebel Voices, I’m Waiting For You, The Scholar and Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space.

May this be a month of CONVAXULATIONS for us, our patrons, and our loved ones. Spring is coming.

Today in Librarian Tabs is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains librarian.net. It’s available in more-accessible format your inbox via TinyLetter. Thanks for reading.



Today in Librarian Tabs is a librarian newsletter by Jessamyn West

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