This is the first entry in a planned series to share the Rose Library’s ongoing work to create more inclusive archival description. Future posts will explore past and present work in more depth, including more detailed explanation of terminology and exploration of why this work is necessary in archives.
In this first post, however, I want to introduce Anti-Oppressive Archival Description Working Group so readers can better understand who is doing this work and why. Since 2017, archivists in Rose Library have been working to reevaluate our policies and procedures for archival processing to center user needs, increase transparency, and more effectively incorporate professional values into our day to day work. This work has taken many forms and included numerous archivists from the Rose Library. In April 2020, we embarked upon a new chapter of this work, creating a small working group to evaluate the legacy of harmful language in our finding aids and catalog records. Our current project is divided into three phases: 1. issuing a statement on the presence of harmful language in our description; 2. new guidelines for writing anti-oppressive archival description; and 3. reviewing legacy finding aids and revising harmful content.
In forming the working group, the most important factor to us was diversity. We wanted to include archivists from different units: those who focus primarily on working with our researchers, those who focus primarily on arranging and describing collections, and those who focus primarily on acquiring new collections. All of these different perspectives are critical in understanding how archival practices affect our users and how we can make changes to create more inclusive virtual and physical spaces for users. We also needed the group to be as representative of the communities documented by our collections as possible. Members of the working group are Black and white, gay and straight, with varied expertise and diverse pathways into the profession. We are aware that there are still gaps in representation on the working group and I’ll discuss how we’re compensating for those perspectives in future posts.
Each working group member is committed to dismantling legacies of white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and ableism in archival arrangement and description. We hope that this blog series provides one avenue for discussing this work with our donor and user communities.
Meet the Anti-oppressive Archival Description Working Group Members:
Jina DuVernay, Collection Development Archivist for African American Collections. Jina has worked as a librarian, an archivist and as a curator. In each of these roles, she has advocated for access to materials by striving to remove barriers to obtaining information and by engaging the community with materials relating to African American history and culture. DuVernay serves on a number of committees including Emory Libraries’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Professional Development subcommittee.
Carrie Hintz, Associate Director. Carrie has spent the majority of her archives career in technical services, either processing collections or managing and leading processing teams and programs. A former English major, she has always been invested in the ways that people use words, and as a queer woman and feminist she has a lot of experience grappling with how the words we use to describe ourselves and others can be both powerful and painful. So, basically, this project is right up her alley!
Sarah Quigley, Head of Collection Processing. I supervise the Rose Library staff who organize and create access tools for archival and manuscript collections. I have spent much of my career considering how archivists have the power to shape the historical record through the decisions we make, including how descriptive choices can reveal or obscure stories documented in collections. I hope this project can more accurately represent the richness and depth of the collections in Rose Library and increase the ability of individuals to find stories of themselves and their communities.
Lolita Rowe, Community Outreach Archivist. Lolita Rowe is the Community Outreach Archivist at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. She works with the Metro Atlanta community to collect, preserve, and provide access to diverse voices in the archive. Previously she worked as the Reference and Outreach Coordinator for UNC Charlotte where she assisted with collection development and outreach activities for the King-Henry-Brockington LGBTQ+ Archive.
Tierra Thomas, Visiting Archivist for Southern Jewish Collections. Tierra processes collections related to Jewish people and Jewish History. She has a background in processing and creating conscious archival descriptions and is glad to be a part of this project that reflects the critical conversation in the field affirming that we need to put more effort into using cultural humility to describe our collections.