Antiracism Resources: Conscious Editing Initiatives

Tue, 06/29/2021 - 13:08

Since the language we use to describe archival materials has such manifold effects on the way those materials are discovered, accessed, and used, inclusive descriptive practices are an important tool in making collections equitable and accessible. Conscious editing initiatives have taken hold in many institutions, and constitute a set of considerations to evaluate previous and future descriptive practices. The University of North Carolina’s University Library is one such institution grappling with ways to include conscious editing in their daily work. Their Conscious Editing Initiative describes the mindset for this work well, stating  “Conscious editing brings an active, critical awareness of bias, privilege, and power and an ethos of deliberate care to the assessment, creation and refinement of descriptive archival texts.”

For those just starting out with incorporating conscious editing into their current processing procedures, The Sunshine State Digital Network has created an excellent Introduction to Conscious Editing Series. While focused on metadata for digital objects specifically, the ideas presented can be readily adapted to all areas of archival description. In her introductory lecture to the series, Dorothy Berry, Digital Collections Program Manager at Houghton Library, Harvard University, articulately defines not only the reasons to undertake this work, but also discusses the types of subjectivity that each individual archivist brings to their own descriptive practice. Berry sets out to address specific areas of description that are often historically lacking in the process, including class, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and languages. The greatest takeaways from Berry’s presentation come in the form of specific ways to address this work on an institutional level. 

The second part of the series continues with a panel discussion, highlighting these types of conscious editing in practice. This includes a discussion with Kelly Bolding, Project Archivist for American Manuscript Collections at Princeton University and a co-author of the Anti-Racist Description Resources from the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia that were discussed in one of our early blog posts

Beyond these introductory discussions, the Sunshine State Digital Network Metadata Working Group has developed an Inclusive Metadata and Conscious Editing Resources List, published in October 2020 (if this link does not work, find an updated version from the Sunshine State Digital Network Documentation webpage). These resources include research papers, case studies, examples of organizations already doing this work, and a list of tools to help guide those looking to begin or build on conscious editing practices at their own institution. 

What inclusive description and conscious editing practices have you undertaken at your own institution? Were there any initial steps that helped you get started? What challenges have you uncovered in this work? You can leave comments or feedback below, email us at, or connect with us on the DHPSNY Facebook page or DHPSNY Community Facebook Group.

This is part of a biweekly blog series on sharing information, promoting resources, encouraging discussion, and amplifying the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) doing antiracism work in archives, museums, history sites, and library special collections. DHPSNY is committed to supporting the diverse network of collecting institutions that safeguard and ensure access to historical records and library research materials across New York State. To learn more, visit our first blog post in the series.

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