Conscious Editing: The Way Forward to More Inclusive Description Practices

Librarians and archivists have begun to actively focus on making sure materials are described in a way that respects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of both historical subjects and contemporary researchers. Traditional cataloging and archival description often excluded figures deemed “unimportant,” making it almost impossible to research marginalized people, hiding the richness of the historical record and alienating communities who can’t see themselves in our collections. This practice has come to be known as conscious editing, a term coined at the University of North Carolina.

“Conscious editing is an active, critical awareness of bias, privilege, and power and an ethos of deliberate care used in the assessment, creation, and refinement of descriptive texts. One outcome of conscious editing is the increased accessibility of our collections in unserved and underserved communities seeking meaningful connections with their histories.”

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill “Conscious Editing Initiative”, https://library.unc.edu/idea/projects/conscious-editing-initiative/

In order to provide guidance to librarians and archivists around the state of Florida, the Sunshine State Digital Network (SSDN) held a series of workshops in fall 2020. The hope is that widespread implementation of inclusive and conscious description practices will increase engagement, use, and visibility of our state’s rich and diverse resources, while ensuring respectful representation of those represented in our collections. Watch the first session of the series, led by Harvard Librarian, Dorothy Berry right here:

You can watch all of the recordings from the series on the SSDN YouTube channel. You can also find resources related to bias in library & archival description, inclusive metadata, re-description projects, and best practices and resources for describing materials by and about marginalized peoples in this resource list, assembled by the SSDN Metadata Working Group.

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