How to use this guide:
The following guide presents an expansive and interdisciplinary range of resources, tools, thinkers, and concepts related to the production of bias within information spaces like libraries and archives. While this guide is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of the study of socially constructed inequalities, it will introduce students to a variety of ways of thinking about bias, diversifying research, and providing more inclusive group and community representations. Furthermore, research related to the informational bias--and its impact on individual/ collective identity--is still very much coming into focus, and the Gordon Library welcomes any insights from community members regarding new resources, research, etc. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you consider sources for your research, ask yourself:
Image: Eytan, T. Out of Chaos Comes Growth. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org
As noted by the librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, "[I]dentifying bias can be tricky because it is not clearly stated" or immediately recognizable within a work by a creator, producer, or party responsible for disseminating an informational resource. In a similar vein, identifying bias is much like trying to articulate the intentions of an actor--be it positive or negative--in a court of law, in the context of a dispute between parties. In this sense, bias, like intentionality, can be difficult to corroborate absent clear or compelling evidence, especially in the context of exploring implicit (subconscious) and systemic (macro-structural) forms of individual exclusion or group repression.
As such, bias can manifest and operate in a multitude of ways, emerging from political and economic structures, cultural assumptions, religious or philosophical viewpoints, normative social roles and relations, and many more. As such, librarians and information researchers recommend evaluating all sources for potential bias -- "from a tweeted link to a scholarly article". Below, readers will find several useful definitions for some of the interrelated concepts addressed in this guide, followed by a few multimedia resources to orient researchers new to this conversation.
Bias: Systematic distortion of results or findings from the true state of affairs, or any of several varieties of processes leading to systematic distortion. In everyday usage, “bias” often implies the presence of emotional and/or political prejudices that influence conclusions and decisions (Oxford Dictionary of Public Health).
Bias: Distortion in research and analysis, especially due to preconceptions of the researcher, but also as a function of unanticipated relationships of dependence among the variables under study or in the methods of gathering data (Oxford Dictionary of the Social Sciences).
Systemic (or Structural) Bias: Systemic and structural racism [or bias] are forms of racism that are pervasively and deeply embedded in systems, laws, written or unwritten policies, and entrenched practices and beliefs that produce, condone, and perpetuate widespread unfair treatment and oppression of people of color [or other marginalized groups] (Braveman PA, Arkin E, Proctor D, Kauh T, Holm N. Systemic And Structural Racism: Definitions, Examples, Health Damages, And Approaches To Dismantling. Health Aff (Millwood). 2022 Feb;41(2):171-178. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01394. PMID: 35130057).
Institutionalized Bias: Institutionalized bias, practices, scripts, or procedures that work to systematically give advantage to certain groups or agendas over others. Institutionalized bias is built into the fabric of institutions (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Dominant Narrative: "A dominant narrative is an explanation or story that is told in service of the dominant social group’s interests and ideologies. It usually achieves dominance through repetition, the apparent authority of the speaker (often accorded to speakers who represent the dominant social groups), and the silencing of alternative accounts. Because dominant narratives are so normalized through their repetition and authority, they have the illusion of being objective and apolitical, when in fact they are neither" (University of Michigan, Center for Inclusive Teaching).
Abstract: "The toxic effects of bias make headlines every day: sexual harassment, racial profiling, the pay gap. As humans, we are biased. Yet few of us are willing to admit it. We confidently make snap judgments, but we are shockingly unaware of the impact our assumptions have on those around us. The documentary feature “Bias” follows filmmaker Robin Hauser on a journey to uncover her hidden biases and explore how unconscious bias defines relationships, workplaces, our justice system, and technology. bias contemplates the most pressing question: can we de-bias our brains?"
Christie Herring, & Robin Hauser Reynolds (Producers), & Robin, H. R. (Director). (2018). BIAS. [Video/DVD] Film Platform. https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/BIAS
For access to the full documentary, please click on or cut and paste the following link into your browser, and then login to Academic Video Online with your WPI credentials.
The following video, produced by psychologist Steve Taylor of ShortCutsTV, discusses the concept of ethnocentrism, and its role in reinforcing dominant narratives within traditionally Western cultures & societies.
Taylor, S. (2018). Ethnocentrism. Produced for ShortCutsTV. [Video/DVD] Film Platform. https://video.alexanderstreet.com/embed/revising-ethnocentrism.
Why Do You Think Stereotypes Are True? | Decoded (MTV News, 2015)
In the following video from popular MTV web-series 'Decoded', Franchesca Ramsey discusses the impact and consequences of stereotyping as a form of implicit, deeply engrained societal bias. From MTV: "Most people realize that it is wrong to stereotype. But some of these generalizations are so ingrained in our minds through social conditioning that it can be difficult to avoid. You might even start to think they are true! Follow along with Francesca as she breaks down the causes and consequences of stereotyping in this week’s episode of Decoded."
While definitive conceptualizations of the depth or breadth of bias as a social phenomena remain essentially contested within most social science fields, there exists a multitude of rich research and discourse linages concerned with understanding the nature, conditions, and consequences of bias on both an individual and group level. The following resources listed below--available through the Gordon Library--should serve as a starting point for researchers interested in investigating bias across a variety of institutional (media, economic mobility, politics, policing) and experiential (gender/ presentation, race, etc.) settings.
From UCLA Law: "The CRT Forward Tracking Project identifies, tracks, and analyzes local, state, and federal activity aimed at restricting the ability to speak truthfully about race, racism, and systemic racism through a campaign to reject Critical Race Theory (CRT). The Tracking Project analyzes how this anti-CRT activity, at all levels of government, attempts to limit truth telling within K-12 education, private businesses, non-profits, state and federal government agencies, and higher education. The Tracking Project goes beyond a focus on state and federal legislation by also including local government activity and non-legislative actions such as regulations, executive directives, and attorney general opinions".
Organizational/ Advocacy Goals:
In this tool, we illustrate one contributing factor—the way that the small effects of racial bias can compound over lifetimes and generations to add up to large differences.
The following story offers illustrative examples of the ways in which this discrimination can affect people’s lives. In the tool below the story, change the inputs to explore how differing degrees of bias can compound to create inequities in education, income, and wealth.
This tool was designed to (1) illustrate the compounding effect of ostensibly small differences in the ways in which individuals might be treated because of racial bias and (2) provide background information about such differences".
Project Implicit was founded in 1998 with a mission to "educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet. Project Implicit scientists produce high-impact research that forms the basis of our scientific knowledge about bias and disparities". While Project Implicit has steadily gained notoriety since the early 2000's, its research and interpretations remain far from clear or settled. Below, students and researchers can find more information about Project Implicit and their Implicit Association Test (IAT), including a link to testing options. Please note: the Gordon Library strongly recommends reading all of the information related to the IAT before attempting any of the tests (and this includes how/ where data is stored); given the sensitive and personal nature of the test, please consider this a trigger warning. Moreover, students are strongly encouraged to review the critical literature related to the IAT at the close of this page.
"People don’t always say what’s on their minds. One reason is that they are unwilling. For example, someone might report smoking a pack of cigarettes per day because they are embarrassed to admit that they smoke two. Another reason is that they are unable. A smoker might truly believe that she smokes a pack a day, or might not keep track at all. The difference between being unwilling and unable is the difference between purposely hiding something from someone and unknowingly hiding something from yourself.
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science."
"Project Implicit is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and international collaborative of researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition.
The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet. Project Implicit scientists produce high-impact research that forms the basis of our scientific knowledge about bias and disparities.
Interested in taking an implicit bias test?
Please visit https://www.projectimplicit.net to learn more about our team and the programs and services that we offer."
Click here to start at the 'Preliminary Information' section of Project Implicit's testing portal, and please read the information carefully.
Research and Critiques related to the IAT:
Greenwald, A. G., Brendl, M., Cai, H., Cvencek, D., Dovidio, J. F., Friese, M., … Wiers, R. (2020). The Implicit Association Test at age 20: What is known and what is not known about implicit bias. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/bf97c
Lopez, G. (2017). "For years, this popular test measured anyone’s racial bias. But it might not work after all". Vox. https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/7/14637626/implicit-association-test-racism .
Singal, J. (2017). "Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job". The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2017/01/psychologys-racism-measuring-tool-isnt-up-to-the-job.html
Azar, B. (2008). "IAT: Fad or fabulous?". American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/07- 08/psychometric.
Gawronski, B. (2019). Six Lessons for a Cogent Science of Implicit Bias and Its Criticism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(4), 574–595. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691619826015.
Greenwald, A.G., Brendl, M., Cai, H. et al. Best research practices for using the Implicit Association Test. Behav Res 54, 1161–1180 (2022). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-021-01624-3
Brownstein, Madva, A., & Gawronski, B. (2020). Understanding Implicit Bias: Putting the Criticism into Perspective. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly., 101(2), 276–307. https://doi.org/10.1111/papq.12302
"Contemporary libraries are rooted in the same context as other Enlightenment projects of dominant order: colonial museums and zoos that collect and display objects and animals from across the globe; world maps with cartographic projections that place Europe or the United States at the center of things.
Libraries are a part of these efforts, desiring machines that seek to collect everything for everyone for all time, making knowledge universally accessible through cataloging and classification schemes from which nothing escapes" -- Emily Drabinski (49).
"Washington DC ~ Reading Room ~ Library of Congress" by Onasill ~ Bill- 81M views is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Decolonization: The historical process whereby countries under colonial rule by foreign (usually European) powers transitioned to self-rule. The term is very broad in its sweep and encompasses both a vast geographical territory (the majority of the global South or former Third World) and a complicated timeline (it didn’t take place all at once), but also significant differences in how it was achieved (violent or peaceful) as well as divergent outcomes (relative prosperity and crushing poverty). --Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory, 2nd Edition.
Broadly, the process of decolonization can be referred to as "the end of the period of territorial domination of lands primarily in the global south by European powers". And yet, most scholars "contend that colonialism did not disappear with decolonization", and that even in the absence or removal of the physical and material centers of colonial power within occupied territories, there remains an undercurrent which continues to reverberate as a deeper structure of domination. Here, this deeper structure is often manifested and reinforced within the commonly accepted--or deeply engrained--values, beliefs, assumptions, forms of common sense (i.e., savoir faire), and sets of statements (language) imposed upon local cultures by the enterprise of empire. As such, decolonial scholarship prioritizes interrogating social systems, institutions, and the exclusionary practices which maintain traditionally Western social conditions (i.e., white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormativity) which render alternate ways of knowing and being untenable, unmodern, or unfeasible. By extension, decolonial scholars advocate for the disruption and dislocation of the assumed, dominant modes of thinking which have obscured and invalidated indigenous and non-Eurocentric customs and systems of knowledge.
To beg the question, how does this relate to libraries and librarianship?
As author and researcher Jess Crilly notes, "[l]ibraries have a role in supporting access to research and scholarship through open systems and supporting open academic practices. They are in a position to challenge the excessive cost of commercially produced journals, contributing to a more level playing field for the production and circulation of knowledge". In this way, libraries, as long standing social institutions themselves rooted in the notion of 'leveling' and 'equitable access', can play a meaningful role in not only challenging the residue of hegemony within academic discourse and research, but also, authentically reposition themselves as non-neutral agents of knowledge production and maintenance.
From with this space of knowledge production emerges the movement towards critical librarianship, which "acknowledges and then interrogates the structures that produce us as librarians, our spaces as libraries, our patrons as students, faculty, and the public, whose interface with the sum of human knowledge is produced, in large part, by us" (Drabinski, 49). Furthermore, "One of the insights of critical librarianship since the 1970s has been this acknowledgement that invisible, intellectual structures actually have a relationship to the material world of knowledge construction. As the tools that order things, our catalogs and classification structures are themselves technologies of power, facilitating some ways of knowing and not others, representing certain ideological ways of seeing the world, and, crucially, not others. As librarians, we deploy these tools of power every day in our practice, as we describe material using controlled vocabularies, assign class numbers to place books on shelves" (52).
Subsequently, the work of critical librarianship entails five key, interrelated elements:
The Gordon library recommends the following resources to introduce students and researchers to the emerging practice of critical librarianship:
Research Related to Library of Congress Classification Bias
Research Related to Library of Congress History & Development
In this video, Dr. Emily Drabinski--Head librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center & current ALA President--discusses the role librarians and cataloging practices can play challenging traditionally repressive social structures.
From the The University of British Columbia
"As teaching librarians, we introduce our students to knowledge organization structures that enable inquiry and curiosity in the library, but also use language and logic that we might otherwise contest. Students researching gender and sexual identities in our library catalogs, for example, must confront a controlled vocabulary that represents bias against them more than it does the reality of their own lives. These are pivotal moments, where students intersect with structures of power. Librarians engaged in critical work against dominant knowledge formations can both help students perceive the structures of power that enable some ways of knowing and not others, and help them understand those structures as subject to change. We can begin by understanding how librarians are produced in part by intersections with structures of power."
The Gordon Library would like to recognize and highlight some of the thoughtful, critically concerned, and far-reaching research conducted by librarians and information professionals which inspired and contributed to the development of this library guide. Below is a brief list (but by no means exhaustive) of academic library guides Gordon Library staff recommend to students and community members for further research.