From the Cataloger’s Desk: Questioning Authority

by Iris Lee on

Library News

Cataloging books doesn’t always bring about a crisis of conscience. It doesn’t always make one think about how invisible structures of knowledge can shape bias and model harmful associations. But sometimes a title invites a moral inquiry.

Classification and categorization help organize knowledge -- we can better understand the things around us by naming and grouping like things together. Titles are shelved together by subject to be browsable within their assigned categories, allowing people to discover books serendipitously. 

Grouped into hierarchical structures, the Library of Congress Classification system is widely used in research and academic libraries, and the corresponding subject headings are used in a variety of structured descriptions for discovery online. This makes sense: the more libraries use subject headings from the Library of Congress vocabulary (LCSH), the easier it becomes to virtually collocate related items, across formats and across databases and repositories.

But inherent in the word “subject” is subjectivity; and inherent in hierarchical structures are embedded levels of association and layers of subtext. Built on Thomas Jefferson’s personal library in 1815, topical subjects in LCSH were created to reflect the material at hand.  Over 200 years, though the Library of Congress holds millions of items from all over the world, the foundation of its Classification system was insular and doesn't scale nicely to make room for underrepresented communities. Some subject terms are downright harmful to people.

Over the past several decades, the Library of Congress has revised headings to be less offensive (e.g., the recent update of “Illegal alien” to “Noncitizen”, however a change in semantics does not always alter the relationship within the larger framework of information organization. So it is with Archaeologies of Indigenous presence, a work that challenges the narratives around indigenous histories as seen through the lens of colonization.

From the back cover:
“In recognizing Indigenous presence in the centuries after 1492, this volume counters continued patterns of unknowing in archaeology and offers new perspectives on decolonizing the field. These essays show how this approach can help expose silenced histories, modeling research practices that acknowledge Tribes as living entities with their own rights, interests, and epistemologies.”

After reading this summary, I felt a painful pause as I traced the Classification number on the Library of Congress website to find “E61” (Subject heading: Indigenous peoples -- North America -- Antiquities).

Image capture of detail of the Library of Congress Linked Data Service webpage for LCCN E61.
Screenshot detail of the Library of Congress Linked Data Service webpage for LCCN E61, accessed September 30, 2022.
I. Lee/© AMNH

It makes me wonder how the hard line of Columbus marking the beginning of colonization of this United States reads to the individuals for whom this category represents. Like revisiting a traumatic experience, is this defining event justified in a tier of its own, further embedding a fixed lens from which we view American history and reminding indigenous people of the harm they endured and continue to face? Or, is it a hard truth that requires a new lens from which we can better understand the world and, by extension, ourselves?

I don't have an answer. Dismantling any relational system meant to organize concepts leads to a chain of cascading changes that have real practical implications for catalogers, and libraries in general! So, for now, Archaeologies of Indigenous Presence will be shelved somewhere between books titled The Antiquity and Origin of Native North Americans (1985) and Ancient America, in Notes on American Archaeology (1872). Views past and present, problematic and progressive, will be intermingled unforgivingly. 

As a way to provide an alternative avenue to discovery of Archaeologies of Indigenous Presence in a virtual space, I added a local subject heading “Community archaeology”  (shelved under Archaeology > Methodology). Though it is not about Community archaeology per se, I felt the spirit of the content belonged in this sphere of knowledge. LC defines Community archaeology as “works on archaeology that aims to involve local people in investigation and interpretation of the past.”

I look forward to a future when our knowledge systems represent the whole of our collective identities viewed from the lens of lived experiences rather than through the perceived observations of outsiders. The first three books in this month’s new book list focus on inclusion.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! 

Archaeologies of indigenous presence
edited by Tsim D. Schneider and Lee M. Panich
Challenging narratives of Indigenous cultural loss and disappearance that are still prevalent in the archaeological study of colonization, this book highlights collaborative research and efforts to center the enduring histories of Native peoples in North America through case studies from several regions across the continent. The contributors to this volume, including Indigenous scholars and Tribal resource managers, examine different ways that archaeologists can center long-term Indigenous presence in the practices of fieldwork, laboratory analysis, scholarly communication, and public interpretation. These conversations range from ways to reframe colonial encounters in light of Indigenous persistence to the practicalities of identifying poorly documented sites dating to the late nineteenth century. In recognizing Indigenous presence in the centuries after 1492, this volume counters continued patterns of unknowing in archaeology and offers new perspectives on decolonizing the field. These essays show how this approach can help expose silenced histories, modeling research practices that acknowledge Tribes as living entities with their own rights, interests, and epistemologies.

Effective diversity, equity, accessibility, inclusion, and anti-racism practices for museums : from the inside out
by Cecile Shellman
This book draws from the author's nearly three-decade career of being "the only one in the room". Cecile Shellman builds a process for individualizing, identifying, and prioritizing DEAI challenges; acknowledges key universal challenges in goal-setting and goal achieving; and shares resources and tools for making and charting progress.

Museums as agents of change : a guide to becoming a changemaker
by Mike Murawski
In this book, Michael Murawski explores the work of museums as agents of change through inspiring case studies as well as his own honest, personal experiences as a museum educator, offering effective strategies for museums to enact change in their communities and, most importantly, convert talk into action.

Ant architecture : the wonder, beauty, and science of underground nests
by Walter R. Tschinkel
Many animals, from birds to insects, build structures using wood, soil, or a range of other materials. Surprisingly to most people, a similarly diverse array of animal homes exists underground, in the hidden world beneath our feet. This is particularly true for ants who excavate large and complex nests in which they shelter, reproduce, and generally go about their lives. Despite the existence of this vast underground world, it has remained largely unexplored. Walter Tschinkel, however, has spent his career researching underground ant nests in his home state of Florida (where they are particularly prevalent) and this book is his story of discovery about what he has learned about these nests and what they reveal about ant biology and behavior more broadly. Tschinkel starts the book by describing just how he studies ants nest - an arduous excavation process which involves first filling the nests with plaster, molten metal or wax. But this is a book driven by fascinating questions and the experiments the author has devised to try and answer them. How does nest architecture vary across ant species? How are new nests excavated during colony relocation? Are the ants organized within the nest? Do ants have "architectural plans?" What is the effect of all this nest excavation on soils? And how does the division of labor within the nest work? Ultimately, Tschinkel provides answers to many of these questions, but also acknowledges what mysteries, including why nests evolved in the first place, still remain. In telling this story, Tschinkel introduces readers to the surprising beauty and architectural complexity of underground ant nests and to how scientific research on them is done.

A new genus with two new species of Colombian harvestmen (Opiliones: Stygnidae: Stygninae)
by Osvaldo Villarreal, Adriano B. Kury, and Pío A. Colmenares
Novitates no. 3991
Fortia, gen. nov., a new genus of Stygnidae with two new Colombian species, is diagnosed and described. Two possibly sympatric species Fortia jedi, sp. nov., and Fortia sith, sp. nov. (both from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia), are described and illustrated. Relationships of the new genus are discussed.

Birds of East Africa : Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi
by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe ; illustrated by John Gale and Brian Small
Second edition. A fully revised and updated new guide featuring revised text and distribution maps, the latest taxonomy, and much more, this comprehensive but compact guide describes and illustrates 1,448 species--all the resident, migrant, and vagrant birds of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi--in convenient facing-page layout. Featuring 289 color plates with more than 3,500 painstakingly rendered images, the guide depicts all the plumages and major races likely to be encountered. Introductory sections include information on conservation and where to send records, as well as maps of important bird areas. More than ever, this is the must-have guide for birding in East Africa.

Dragonflies and damselflies of Costa Rica : a field guide
by Dennis Paulson, William Haber
Describes the 283 species of dragonflies and damselflies known to occur in Costa Rica. Illustrated with photographs, and drawings show close-up features of morphology important for identification. Descriptions include body and wing measurements, tips on how to identify and distinguish species, and notes on natural history, habitat, and range.

Ecosystem collapse and recovery

by Adrian C. Newton, Bournemouth University
There is a growing concern that many important ecosystems, such as coral reefs and tropical rain forests, might be at risk of sudden collapse as a result of human disturbance. At the same time, efforts to support the recovery of degraded ecosystems are increasing, through approaches such as ecological restoration and rewilding. Given the dependence of human livelihoods on the multiple benefits provided by ecosystems, there is an urgent need to understand the situations under which ecosystem collapse can occur and how ecosystem recovery can best be supported. To help develop this understanding, this volume provides the first scientific account of the ecological mechanisms associated with the collapse of ecosystems and their subsequent recovery. After providing an overview of relevant theory, the text evaluates these ideas in the light of available empirical evidence, by profiling case studies drawn from both contemporary and prehistoric ecosystems. Implications for conservation policy and practice are then examined.

A framework for community ecology : species pools, filters and traits
by Paul A. Keddy, Daniel C. Laughlin
This book addresses an important problem in ecology: how are communities assembled from species pools? This pressing question underlies a broad array of practical problems in ecology and environmental science, including restoration of damaged landscapes, management of protected areas, and protection of threatened species. This book presents a simple logical structure for ecological assembly and addresses key areas including species pools, traits, environmental filters, and functional groups. It demonstrates the use of two predictive models (CATS and Traitspace) and consists of many wide-ranging examples including plants in deserts, wetlands, and forests, and communities of fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, and fungi. Global in scope, this volume ranges from the arid lands of North Africa, to forests in the Himalayas, to Amazonian floodplains. There is a strong focus on applications, particularly the twin challenges of conserving biodiversity and understanding community responses to climate change.

Grounded in clay : the spirit of Pueblo pottery
by Pueblo Pottery Collective, Elysia Poon, Rick Kinsel
No art form is more associated with the Native Americans of the Southwest than pottery. For centuries, Pueblo people have made beautiful pottery, often painted with intricate designs, for everyday activities such as cooking, food storage and gathering water, and for ceremonial use. Vessels of these types have been found at ancient sites including Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. The tradition of pottery-making continues to thrive among Pueblo communities in the Southwest, and while pottery is still made for practical purposes, it is also commonly produced for the art market. Since the time of the Ancestral Puebloans, pottery has been made predominantly by women. The pots are created from natural clay using a coil method; they are hand-painted and then fired outdoors. Designs vary from one Pueblo to another, but many symbols and motifs are shared by the Pueblos. An impressive survey of more than 100 pieces of historic Pueblo pottery, Grounded in Clay is remarkable for the fact that its content has been selected by Pueblo community members. Rather than relying on Anglo-American art historical interpretations, this book foregrounds Native American voices and perspectives. More than 60 participants from 21 Pueblo communities in the Southwest - among them potters and other artists, as well as writers, curators and community leaders - chose one or two pieces from the collections of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Vilcek Collection in New York. They were then given the freedom to express their thoughts in whichever written form they wished, prose or poem.

Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East : an identification guide
by Peter Adriaens, Mars Musse, Philippe J. Dubois, Frédéric Jiguet
Gulls occupy a particularly important place in the world of birds. But because they are notoriously difficult to identify, they have been relatively neglected in the ornithological literature. Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East offers the most up-to-date guide for gull identification in Europe and beyond. With a direct and visual approach, and an abundance of beautiful color photographs, this book provides thorough accounts of all species and subspecies of gulls found in the Western Palearctic. The guide compares similar taxa and addresses the complexities of identifying hybrids. Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East will be the standard work for identifying these birds for some time to come.

The handbook of acoustic bat detection
by Volker Runkel, Guido Gerding, and Ulrich Marckmann; translated by Iain Macmillan
An accessible and comprehensive guide to all things acoustic bat detection. This highly illustrated handbook provides an in-depth understanding of acoustic detection principles, study planning, data handling, properties of bat calls, manual identification of species, automatic species recognition, analysis of results, quality assurance and the background physics of sound.

Herring and people of the North Pacific : sustaining a keystone species
by Thomas F. Thornton & Madonna L. Moss
Herring (Clupea pallasii) is vital to the productivity and health of marine systems, and socio-ecologically is the most important fish species in the northern hemisphere, where it is valued for its oil, bait, eggs, and sac roe. This comprehensive case study traces the development of fisheries in Southeast Alaska from pre-contact Indigenous relationships to herring to the post-contact fisheries, with comparative reference to other North Pacific cultures. Its interdisciplinary approach, which combines ethnological, historical, archaeological, and political perspectives, makes Herring and People in the North Pacific unique in literature on Indigenous peoples, fisheries management, and marine social-ecological systems. Among the volume's findings are that: present herring stocks, even in highly productive areas of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, are being managed in a depleted status, representing a fraction of their historical abundance and distribution; significant long-term impacts on herring distribution and abundance have been anthropogenic; human dependence on herring as a food resource evolved through interactions with key spawning areas with abundant substrates for egg deposition (such as macrocystis kelp, rockweed, and eelgrass); and maintenance of diverse spawning locations in Southeast Alaska is critical to conserving intraspecies biodiversity. Local and traditional knowledge (LTK)-in combination with archeological, historical, and biological data-is shown to play a critical role in developing understanding of marine ecology, valuation of herring in North Pacific social-ecological systems, and restoration of herring stocks toward their former abundance.

The kestrel : ecology, behaviour and conservation of an open-land predator
by David Costantini, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Giacomo Dell'Omo, and Ornis Italica
The family Falconidae constitutes a group of small to medium-sized diurnal raptors whose monophyly is strongly supported. Kestrels are included in the subfamily Falconinae. There are at least 13 species that belong to the kestrel group, but recent genetic studies suggest that the number of kestrel species might be larger, possibly 16. The paleontological and molecular evidence are congruent in suggesting an evolutionary radiation of kestrels from the Late Miocene (5.6 to 9.8 million years ago) through the Early Pleistocene.

Managing environmental conflict : an Earth Institute sustainability primer
by Joshua D. Fisher
Conflicts frequently arise over environmental issues such as land use, natural resource management, and laws and regulation, emerging from diverging interests and values among stakeholders. This book is a primer on causes of and solutions to such conflicts. It provides a foundational overview of the theory and practice of collaborative approaches to managing environmental disputes. Joshua D. Fisher explains the core concepts in collaborative conflict management and presents a clear, practical, and implementable framework for understanding and responding to environmental disputes. He details strategies to bring stakeholders together in pursuit of collective solutions, emphasizing ongoing processes of dialogue, analysis, action, and learning. This collaborative approach can create new opportunities for stakeholders to better understand each other and the natural world, which enables more effective and context-appropriate environmental governance. The primer examines why and how system dynamics can constrain or expand the possibility of constructive management of conflicts. It features a case study from the Amazon Basin, where local communities, extractive industry operators, conservationists, and land managers have often clashed over access to natural resources, drawing out lessons to illustrate how to adapt the conflict management framework to distinct contexts. 

The market in birds : commercial hunting, conservation, and the origins of wildlife consumerism, 1850-1920
by Andrea L. Smalley with Henry M. Reeves
The book examines wildfowl market hunting in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and its formative effects on both early conservation policy and cultural valuations of wildlife in modernizing America.

Revision of the Nearctic species of the genus Amiota Loew (Diptera: Drosophilidae)
by Lance E. Jones, David A. Grimaldi
Bulletin no. 458
Thorough biotic inventories are still needed even in families with paradigm organisms like Drosophilidae, including well-studied areas such as North America. This work presents a taxonomic revision of the species of the genus Amiota Loew in North America and the Nearctic portion of Mexico. Amiota steganoptera Malloch is currently excluded from the Nearctic and Amiota setigera Malloch is synonymized under Amiota humeralis Loew. Specimens of Amiota subtusradiata Duda were not encountered during this study along with its synonym Amiota quadrata Takada and Toda; however, based on previous descriptions we include A. subtusradiata in the Nearctic fauna. All other previously described species from the Nearctic are redescribed. Thirty-six species are described as new: Amiota amputata, A. antitormentum, A. avipes, A. biacuminis, A. brayi, A. byersi, A. cervites, A. cruciatum, A. didens, A. durangoensis, A. elsaltoensis, A. floridiensis, A. forceps, A. fulvitibia, A. hyalou, A. imperator, A. incurva, A. laevifurca, A. latilabrum, A. mcalpinei, A. multiplex, A. nanonigrescens, A. occidentalis, A. onyx, A. oviraptor, A. pseudominor, A. raripennis, A. sinaloensis, A. subnebojsa, A. tessae, A. texas, A. tibialis, A. tormentum, A. uniacuminis, A. wheeleri, and A. zaliskoi. This increases the total species known in the Nearctic from 13 to 49. All species in the Nearctic are illustrated, adult diagnostic features are discussed, and distributions are provided. A cladogram based on parsimony analysis of 46 morphological characters established species groups in the genus. Most of the Nearctic species were accommodated into 10 species groups. Three species groups were previously erected for species in China and Europe. Seven species groups are newly established: the avipes, cervites, hsui, mariae, nebojsa, nigrescens, and subtusradiata groups.Diversity in Amiota appears to be partially dependent on elevation and latitude in the Nearctic, with high diversity found in southern Ontario, the Appalachians, the Ozarks, mountain forests of Arizona and New Mexico, and the Sierra Madre of central Mexico. The taxonomic history of the Nearctic species is reviewed, and various aspects of their biology is presented. Males of species in the A. mariae species group are polymorphic for mirror-image, asymmetric genitalia, called chiral variants. Besides morphology, larval saproxyly, adult lachryphagy, and biogeography are reviewed. Challenges to the study of Amiota and future prospects are discussed.

Rock art in an indigenous landscape : from Atlantic Canada to Chesapeake Bay
by Edward J. Lenik with Nancy L. Gibbs
Rock Art in an Indigenous Landscape: From Atlantic Canada to Chesapeake Bay is the culmination of the research of preeminent rock art scholar Edward J. Lenik. Here, he profiles more than 64 examples of rock art in varied locations from Nova Scotia to Maryland. Chapters are organized geographically and lead the reader through coastal sites, rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, and upland sites. Lenik discusses the rock art examples in the context of the indigenous landscape, noting the significance of the place of discovery. Coverage includes a meticulous description of the design or motif and suggestions of time frame, artist-makers, and interpretations. Where possible, indigenous views on the artifacts enrich the narrative. Other invaluable elements are a discussion of how to identify indigenous rock art; a glossary of rock art terms and features and archaeological culture periods; an up-to-date bibliography; and an appendix of a number of reported but unconfirmed petroglyph sites in the regions.

The secret perfume of birds : uncovering the science of avian scent
by Danielle J. Whittaker
Birds are capable of detecting scents, and those scents and the microbiome that creates them are pivotal drivers of avian evolution. The author explains how birds produce complex chemical signals that are important to their social and reproductive behavior.

Social butterflies
by Henry S. Horn
Throughout his career, Henry Horn developed a unique approach to the study of butterflies. In this book, he brings together his research with recent findings to present the most recent account of social butterflies-that is, butterflies whose interactions are sufficiently complex as to resemble the level of organization and communication typically associated with vertebrates and some bees. The core of the book consists of focused studies of five species: the Plain Ringlet, Eyed Brown, Great-Spangled Fritillaries, Viceroy, and Pearly Eye, in order of increasing complexity of social interaction. In each chapter, Horn presents a descriptive account of the species' natural history and behavioral idiosyncrasies, ranging behavior, and a model to explain a characteristic aspect of its behavior. He then proceeds to emphasize key departures from these models in order to present the hypothesis that some butterflies make decisions-that is, they are not simply pre-conditioned to react to stimuli in a certain way-by looking at how butterflies interact with the landscape and each other. The book ends with a summary of key conclusions as well as a list of intriguing but yet unanswered questions in need of future research.

Understanding animal behaviour : what to measure and why
by Sergio Pellis and Vivien Pellis
All students and researchers of behaviour - from those observing freely-behaving animals in the field to those conducting more controlled laboratory studies - face the problem of deciding what exactly to measure. Without a scientific framework on which to base them, however, such decisions are often unsystematic and inconsistent. Providing a clear and defined starting point for any behavioural study, this is the first book to make available a set of principles for how to study the organisation of behaviour and, in turn, for how to use those insights to select what to measure. The authors provide enough theory to allow the reader to understand the derivation of the principles, and draw on numerous examples to demonstrate clearly how the principles can be applied. By providing a systematic framework for selecting what behaviour to measure, the book lays the foundations for a more scientific approach for the study of behaviour.

Yellow perch, walleye, and sauger : aspects of ecology, management, and culture
edited by John Clay Bruner and Robin L. DeBruyne
Walleye, one of the most sought-after species of freshwater sport fishes in North America, has demonstrated appreciable declines in their numbers from their original populations since the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, Yellow Perch, once the most commonly caught sport fish and an important commercial species in North America, have also shown declines. Compiling up-to-date information on the biology and management of Walleye, Sauger, and Yellow Perch, including research on systematics, genetics, physiology, ecology, movement, population dynamics, culture, recent case histories, and management practices, will be of interest to managers, researchers, and students who deal with these important species, particularly in light of habitat alterations, population shifts, and other biotic and abiotic factors related to a changing climate.

Can’t get enough? For additional new books see our New Books page! 

The AMNH Library is not currently open to the public. Resources are available to Museum staff and items may circulate to staff members with full borrowing privileges. Staff can submit an application for access here

This entry was written by Iris Lee, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian.