Religion/Asian Studies 232: Browsing & Bias

Buddhist Economics
Professor: Susanne Ryuyin Kerekes
Spring 2020

More on Search System Bias

Using Subject Headings

Subject Headings are terms that are most commonly used to describe the topic that a resource covers. Unlike keywords, which are user generated, subject headings are created and maintained by an authoritative institution. Since Williams Libraries, and most academic libraries, organizes our resources using the Library of Congress Classification, we also utilize Library of Congress Subject Headings to provide access to our collections by subject. Subject headings are arranged systematically, and can be useful tools to help browse the collection by topic. Subject headings for each resource are located in the "Details" section of the catalog record, under "Subjects."

Below are examples of Subject Headings that may be used as starting points for your research projects, and examples of the type of books you may find in the library when using these Subject Headings. 

Politics of Search Systems

While often considered neutral by information seekers, the systems that power the searching of information (subject terminology, search engine algorithms, etc.) have been created by humans, and so are inherently biased. This is important to keep in mind as you navigate these spaces. Here are a few things to consider:

- Does the language you are using to find resources hold any social and/or political bias? What sort of language might the "other side" of an argument use when talking about your topic. Terms like "Obese" vs. "Fat" bring this to light - try performing individual searches with both keywords and see how your results differ.

- How does the search tool you are using make money? How might that influence the ranking of the results you see?

- Who are the primary users of the search tool you are using? Does this change what is included, or how one might perform a search?

Algorithms of Oppression - Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble