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Special Collections and Archives Research Center Anti-Racist Actions

We acknowledge that materials in SCARC collections and the language that describes them may be harmful. We are actively working to address our descriptive practices; this guide provides more information regarding our anti-racist actions.

Actions Underway

As part of an ongoing commitment to engaging in anti-racist archival practices, SCARC staff are engaging in educational opportunities and department wide conversations on how to be anti-racist, and we are identifying harmful language in our existing collection finding aids to change the language where appropriate and highlight it otherwise. We recognize that anti-racist work is a journey of personal and professional growth and we acknowledge we have to do the work on ourselves before we can help address the issues within our profession.

We are actively and collaboratively engaging in these actions within our policies and processes to ensure anti-racist practices are embedded within SCARC now and in the future. SCARC archivists are taking the following steps listed below to address harmful language within our collections: 

  • Identifying harmful language and imagery.
    We are in the process of identifying language and imagery in collections, collection descriptions, and digital object metadata in order to update, remove, provide a warning to help researchers prepare emotionally, or give context to any language and imagery that is euphemistic, racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist, or otherwise harmful.

  • Updating collection descriptions and digital object metadata.
    SCARC staff acknowledge that we have biases and power in our choice of language when we create our collection finding aids, especially when we write biographical or historical notes about the creators of our collections, as well as when we describe the scope and content of our collections. For all newly created finding aids and digital objects, we are committed to using inclusive, anti-racist, non-derogatory language; however, we acknowledge that some of our legacy finding aids contain language that is euphemistic, racist, homophobic, sexist, and ableist. Language that was considered acceptable by archivists in the past is sometimes no longer adequate or appropriate, and we are dedicated to correcting those records as we identify them. When applicable, collection finding aids will include a “Statement on Description” field to include a link to this guide and information specific to the collection’s descriptive language, as well as imagery, and whether or not archivists have reused descriptions provided by a donor or have provided the language themselves.  

  • Retaining harmful language in collection descriptions and digital object metadata, with context and reasoning provided.
    In some cases, after serious and collaborative deliberation, we have retained harmful language and include information in the finding aid’s “Statement on Description” field to identify the language retained and why, and indicate whether or not we have reused the descriptive language provided by the collection creator or donor, or if we have provided the language ourselves.  

    Some situations where this might occur are:

    • Organization names that include outdated terms
    • An individual identifying themselves by a term that is no longer favored by people within that group
    • Title or language from a published book, article, film, or song
    • Terms considered derogatory by some have been reclaimed by others, and the creator of the collection uses such a term to self-identify
    • Terms regularly used by a community to describe themselves historically have fallen out of use or out of favor
    • The terms in use provide important contextual information that will help users better access the collection or understand the conditions under which it was created
    • We have reused description created by the donor or transcribed information directly from the documents themselves
    • We have used national standards such as Library of Congress Subject Headings to enable standardized searching and access across our holdings, and some of these headings are outdated and offensive.

On-going Actions

  • As part of our standard practice for new digital objects, we are being intentional about using anti-racist terminology to describe the content being presented. This process includes describing content related to race, sexuality and gender, and immigration status, for example, using inclusive terminology that communities have adopted to describe themselves. 

  • We are also remediating legacy descriptions for digital objects that do not conform to the best practices being deployed for the creation of new digital objects. This activity will be a major point of emphasis for our digital collections work going forward.

  • As part of our arrangement and description work, we are developing a list of questions to use as a lens when we review finding aids that we create. We are continuing to develop and populate the list of problematic terms and collections, and planning workflows for remediation.