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Changing Depictions of Persons in Library Practice: Spirits, Pseudonyms, and Human Books

Among knowledge organizing institutions, libraries have a rich history of depicting persons as information. From personal authority records to descriptions of oral history interviews, libraries have amassed data on persons from a variety of perspectives. Within this set of traditions, however, subtle but significant shifts in practice and conception have occurred, particularly concerning how persons are interpreted and depicted, and how such depictions are justified. To explore these issues, we looked to four specific library traditions: authority work, community information, oral history, and Human Library events. Within these traditions, we identified six standards guiding the representation of persons. We performed a content analysis of these standards, along with a semantic alignment and comparison of descriptive elements. From this analysis, we reconstructed an historical timeline and a set of narratives capturing changing definitions of people, a shifting focus from names to identities, and an increasing acceptance of varied sources of justification. Findings show not only a number of critical variations within library practices, but also practical and ethical issues concerning the responsibility of libraries as well as the redistribution and reuse of library data on the web.

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