Madelyn Washington, librarian, digital management specialist, and Detroit music fan, discusses metadata and the preservation of “Sonic Afro Modernity.”
Good morning. I’m very happy to be here. My name is, again, as I was introduced before — can you all hear me pretty well? Fantastic. I’m Madelyn Shackelford Washington. I am an assistant librarian at the University Library of Columbus in Columbus, Indiana. I drove last night from Bloomington, Indiana, however, I was born here in the city of Detroit. I was not raised here though. My mother was a Wolverine. I moved to Ann Arbor when I was six years old and then moved to Southern California when I was eight where I was raised for 23 years as a “Valley Girl.”
Yes, that “Valley Girl”, that says whatever, like totally, and do that far too much. And that accent kind of comes out pretty hardcore when I get excited and when I talk about Detroit things about my hometown, that accent does come out a bit. So if I do say things that you just don’t understand, please feel free to say, “Madeline, please take it down a thousand,” and I’ll come back to the Midwest.
And that’s what I did. I went to Bloomington, Indiana to go to library school and I never thought that I was going to be involved in the information provision. I, as well, am not only a librarian, but I’m a singer as well, as well as a classical flute player. I went to music school in California, so I could come back and get involved with this whole thing called metadata and metadata generation for music materials. Okay.
So that’s what we’re going to talk a little bit about today. “The Detroit Techno Ontology,” something that I’ve been working on for a bit. It’s just, basically a controlled vocabulary, but vocabulary for describing Detroit techno digital music objects. Okay.
And I think that I could have been at 12 or 13 years old, to the dismay of my mother. The very first connection that I developed with the genre of Detroit music was indeed techno, Detroit techno.
Detroit Techno in California
But most specifically ghettotech. Okay. And I remember I would come and visit my grandparents and the summer times and be so excited to watch The Scene and The New Dance Show. And my mother didn’t really want me to watch anything like that and listen to the, you know the high, very raunchy lyrics of ghettotech and when I would, and I just remember going with my cousin to go pick up, mix tapes from the very rare swap meets now.
And it becoming even more and more rare to pick up those mixed tapes as Detroit became more and more abandoned every summer I would come and visit. So when I brought the music back to my friends in Southern California there, they didn’t quite know how to make sense of the raunchy, raunchy lyrics, and then the really, really high beats per minute. They just really couldn’t get it.
For Us By Us
But I knew that they dug it. I knew that they liked it and because it was a music that was created pretty much for us and by us, I felt very happy about being one of the ones in California with these really rare mixtapes. And because this music wasn’t readily available on the music scene, I could feel kind of special as I spoke about it with my friends in California. But as I became more involved as an information professional and the information provision and got involved with the open access or linked open data movement, this kind of seclusion of this music became less attractive.
And as a librarian now I’m committed to the free interchange and exchange of information. And I’m very concerned about access issues, online access issues. And particularly when we’re talking about describing information that’s coming out of the African diaspora, because, you know, not all adults are online adults, right.
And all the online adults, in general, sometimes are mostly not people of color. And we all know Detroit is a city of people of color, and we are the ones who are producing this Detroit techno music that isn’t always super accessible to the masses. However, in Dan Sicko’s Techno Rebels, he did make a very interesting point, in his Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk. He mentions that the proliferation of digital music and the success of digital music retailers like Beatport and iTunes has made it easier for people to buy, right, independent types of music. Right. He also mentioned that social media platforms have leveled the playing field, encouraging people, to independent music sectors, to compete with big music labels. And he very nicely says all that’s needed is for a community to make the music that resonates with the people.
We’ve got a community that makes music that resonates with the people. It’s a very nice way to think. But we need to figure out ways to make it accessible. Right. And I wish that was the only thing that we had to do to tell the stories of Detroit techno in particular and other genres of Detroit music and as capitalists guess the availability of music to purchase has increased due to the adoption of internet technologies.
But what about those of us — I know that there’s art here, archivists and librarians, probably historians, sociologists in the room positions — all kinds, some people shaking their heads. — what about those of us who are looking to study the data related to the meanings and movements and migrations of Detroit music? Okay. I speak to you as a person who was born here, was not raised here, but I have a lot of love for the city and a lot of love for the food here and a lot of love for the music here.
Okay. And I also speak to you as a very, very, enthusiastic member of the knowledge management community. Alright. And I’m very concerned about digital preservation and harvesting and discovery and access of the stories that inform our telling of “sonic Detroit.” So, I’d like to start asking you a few questions.
How is it that you want your stories to be preserved, harvested, discovered, and actually accessed? How is it that you want to increase the visibility of these collections, that I know you all, that you all maintain, these collections of oral histories, your tracks, your manuscripts? How is it that you want your content organized?
You say, “Hey, you’re a librarian and catalog it, archive it, put it online.” Yes, of course. But I do fear that if, if we keep on just putting more web pages into the hidden web, due to the competition of the global information environment, we’re going to lose a lot of these websites unless we’re figuring out ways of generating traffic, right, to our repositories, to our catalogs. Right?
Sonic Afro Modernity
Because, when I’m always, as I’m thinking, as I’m working with music students, I’m always thinking, you know, how can I help this person get to the information that they need? You know, how is it that I’m going to ensure that others are going to be able to find these stories about Detroit music or Detroit techno that we’ve gathered here to share after we passed on? How do we liberate ourselves, our data, from the walled gardens of our current bibliographic universe and share our stories of “Sonic Afro Modernity?”
I would like to talk with you a little bit about a project that I’ve been involved with, about, and I want to talk to you a little bit about the power of how metadata can help us with our collection management needs. I’ve been investigating the potential of a particular dataset, a linked open dataset, to enhance discovery and visibility of digital cultural heritage materials that are related to the domain of Detroit techno.
I’m in the primary stages of conducting a vocabulary, a names database of Detroit techno artists in the form of linked open data. And I’ll be using this development, this database, to inform the development of a Detroit techno ontology, which is a way to describe digital objects, to make things more easily findable, on the back end, for users.
And some people are shaking their heads. And probably the librarians and archivists are saying, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” [laughs] So it’s a day, I hope, to kind of talk a little bit about the value and challenges of developing a domain-specific vocabulary tool that draws upon the semantics of a very, very large, linked dataset called DBpedia. And the goal, ultimately, hopefully I can get this done next year or so, is to develop a method for creating, revealing, the networks of relationships between Detroit techno artists and ultimately providing some sort of like digital reference tool that’s useful for people who are interested in analyzing the history of the genre of Detroit techno.
Okay. So basically I’m going to steal a little bit of what Michelle [McKinney] said before. She’s like, what, “what footprints are we leaving?” What we’re going to be talking about, what I’m talking about, or I want to see what kind of digital footprints that users of the web are leaving in regards to Detroit techno. Okay. So you heard me a minute ago talk about metadata. Metadata. What is metadata Madelyn you ask? Okay.
People say data about data. Information about information, right? It’s just basically, like a library, the card catalog, right, card catalog. Wow. All of that there. All that stuff is just data that help people find things here. Right? Think of metadata as that. Metadata is important to our collections because it helps facilitate discovery of things that are in repositories, helps you organize things, helps you preserve and archive things. And it helps facilitate the harvesting of your repository content.
Metadata as Medicine
So think of metadata as being a really good bit of medicine that we all need on this big world and the big worldwide web. And a type of metadata that I’ve been dealing with is linked open data, which basically associates, associated with the technical interoperability of data on the web, which enables connections between a variety of sources. So think of, like a database that’s about 10,000 pieces strong, able like a music-related database, able to make semantic connections with a history, historical database about, about Detroit or about, you know, we can make our databases talk to each other online a little bit better. Okay.
So what I did was, the database that I chose to investigate to create this Detroit techno — directory — it was called DBpedia, which is a very large linked open dataset that was created by extracting structured information from Wikipedia.
When you’re going to a Wikipedia page, do you notice in the far right hand corner a box? Okay, this is where this, this is called the info box. This is where this structured data that I’m getting from, that DBpedia gets, to create their dataset. And while investigating the structures that underline this data set, I ran in the domain of Detroit techno, I ran into some really interesting problems.
So it’s Detroit techno week. We all know the name of Juan Atkins, right? Amazing. You like Detroit techno, right? So what’s interesting is that this is a data set that’s been published in about 119 languages and everyone in different languages are saying the same things in different ways, right? So when I’m trying to develop a controlled vocabulary to unify all of this, I have to account for all of that.
Querying the Data
And like, so I was trying to query the data database for the subject of Detroit techno. And I used part of the DBpedia vocabulary “musical artists” and I thought I was going to get this big list of Detroit techno DJs. I got nothing in English, nothing at all. This is user-generated content, remember, however says like, how can I query this database to find DJs’ names or at least producers’ names or something. So I had to go back into the computer and figure out some other things. And finally I got this nice long list of about 150 names of Detroit techno artists when I used the property “genre.” Like I had to query the database for “Kevin Saunderson has genre Detroit techno,” but not, “Detroit techno has music artist.”
Wow. Right. That was only in the English dataset. In Russian, Italian, and Spanish, that wasn’t the case.
Okay. So it’s very interesting to find the inconsistencies and redundancies that are just kind of laying online for us as managers of information to have to deal with. But it’s, I’m a person who was a singer and a flute player for a long time, I like to look at music, music notes, you know scores. So what I’m looking at these things, it’s interesting, it’s just kind of like interesting mind, mind work to have to figure out, okay, how can I create a nice vocabulary using what the users have already created to make something, make a tool that people can actually use, to actually study the history of Detroit techno. Other issues that came out when I was searching the dataset or issues of disambiguation: we already know that Juan Atkins goes by many, many names, right?
How do we figure out, how do we describe, 150 different pages who describe Juan Atkins as Channel One, Frequency, Infinity, Model 500, Model 600 or Juan. Okay. That’s been something that I’m, I’ve been investigating and I hope to remedy that by using a few of the vocabularies that the Library of Congress as well as the Virtual Internet Authority File have published. Very interesting challenges.
Detroit Techno or Electronic Music or…
Another interesting challenge of this data set. You would think that, OK, in this data set, they do have a category called “Detroit techno,” right? So you would think that one of the “Founding Fathers,” of course, Juan Atkins would be listed as like a “property” or you know, a “class” underneath, associated with, Detroit techno. Not the case at all. Remember, this is user-generated though. These aren’t, these aren’t musicians who are used to, you know, generating this kind of metadata, right?
Juan Atkins actually fell under the category of “techno” and “electronic music,” but not “Detroit techno.” Something that was found in the English data set and very problematic indeed. So what we’re seeing, these digital footprints that our users of the web are leaving, are inconsistent and very redundant. And I’m having a good time trying to fix these things. At this point in time. So I hope to have a usable tool quite, quite soon.
So as I round off the end of this presentation: What makes metadata successful is the community — adaption — the adoption of acceptable standards, right? When a community adopts a specific community, a specific metadata standard, catalogs and search interfaces and databases become more accessible.
So this is why I come to you today.
Detroit Sound Conservancy: I don’t know what your current metadata infrastructure looks like.
Right? But I hope — excuse me?
Gholz: We don’t either.
New Streams of Interpretation
Washington: But this is why I came here because I wanted to ask these questions and I hope that this kind of conversation encourages you all to begin to collaborate with more managers of information. I see there’s lots of archivists and librarians here, and Wiki, Wiki, enthusiasts, right? Right here next to me, who I read a lot about before I got here. I hope that this has encouraged you to all begin collaborating, to hopefully collaborate on the adoption of a metadata standard that will be helpful in the preservation, curation and access of important resources.
And because my research is still so early in its stages, I understand that there are many case studies that need to be finished, money to prototype these things. And in the spirit of doing so, I’m hoping that the creation of Detroit techno ontology and hopefully eventually Detroit music oncology aim to be this prototype that shows the opportunities and challenges of interlinking cultural data and making it searchable as a whole to create new meanings and elicit new streams of interpretation for Detroit music scholarship.
We definitely have the power to describe and preserve our stories the way that we want to. I’m just very happy that I can be a part of a very democratic approach to preserve my hometown’s cultural heritage.
Detroit Sound responds
Gholz: I just wanna pipe in right there. This is essential stuff. If you zoned out for a moment, I, you know, cause it’s metadata or something like that, you’re in trouble. And if anybody heard of the NSA? You need to know what the metadata is and what it is doing in your lives: culturally, politically. All of these things. And that was wonderful. That’s very helpful stuff. And we are working on that stuff. And it’s not Leo Early’s fault because Leo’s been pushing me on getting all this stuff together. And we’re doing the best we can. Soon we’re getting it together.
And I also want to say for the Wiki issue, and this goes right into whatever is doing, if you look for Thomas “Beans” Bowles — who knows who Thomas “Beans” Bowles was or who he was? Okay, fantastic. If you don’t, if you Google the Wiki page, there is no English Wiki page. It’s in German, the best Wiki pages in German. So you tell me about how this all works. We’ve got our work to do.