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SCRC Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Our Descriptive Practices

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key values for GW and for Libraries and Academic Innovation, but we know that we do not yet fully live these values. The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) acknowledges that our policies and practices have caused harm through racism, homophobia, sexism, and White Supremacy. We are committing to projects that rectify these exclusionary practices and encourage more inclusivity in our collections. Through these efforts we will work to become a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive institution for all, including researchers, staff, students, and donors. We will continually assess and readjust this work to ensure success. In addition, we will seek input on our progress from the community and from experts, and call on their collective expertise.

If you encounter language in the SCRC finding aids, catalog records, digitized collections, or elsewhere that you do not believe contributes to the recognition of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of people, please let us know. We also welcome your feedback if you have questions about the statement below or about our work. Please use our feedback form and select the option Remediation of Harmful Language. 

During the 2020-2021 academic year, the Special Collections Research Center began a critical review of archival practices, discussing the themes of social justice, dismantling White Supremacy in archives, and inclusive practices concerning collection development and description. We set our objectives as learning from and listening to people and organizations already working in these areas in order to apply their expertise and knowledge locally to our work in the SCRC. This work builds on project-based work done in the past, such as the 2016 President's Archival Research Project.

The SCRC staff recognize that we must critically assess our collections and collection building practices, as well as barriers to access, in order to identify our practices of exclusion. Once identified we must rectify these practices of exclusivity through retrospective projects. We will also reevaluate and redesign our current practices to foster inclusion, and more accurately describe the people and cultures represented in our collections.

We acknowledge that our existing description may contain language that is racist, sexist, or that uses other offensive and/or outdated terms that cause harm. This language is from archival description created in the past by creators of collection material, previous stewards, or by GW staff.

The SCRC staff will plan and implement projects to make our descriptions more inclusive. This will include reviewing our Collection Development policies and the terminology and subject heading standards used in our descriptive practices. This work may result in the removal of harmful language. There may, however, be times when archival theory and practice will require the retention of the original language. In these situations we will provide explanation and historic context. To hold ourselves accountable to these next steps, we will provide information on our progress to the GW and broader research community through our website and social media platforms.

Through this work we will acknowledge, annotate, and address the great harms we have caused through racism, homophobia, sexism, and White Supremacy and become a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive institution for researchers, staff, students, and donors.

Additionally, we are endeavoring to make our physical and digital spaces more accessible. If you experience a barrier that affects your ability to access any Special Collections content, please let us know using the accessibility feedback form.

Past and Current Projects

  • 2022 – Ongoing: Undertake reparative description projects focusing on the results of an audit of Washingtoniana collections for offensive and outdated terminology.
    • Specific projects for the Washingtoniana collections have focused on:
      • Outdated and harmful LGBTQ+ terms (2022)
      • Mental health and disability terms (2022)
      • Aggrandizing terms (2022 – Present)
  • 2022: Drafted guidelines for reparative description projects
  • 2021 – Present: Expand the standard thesauri used to devise subject headings to include those created by marginalized communities to ensure the least harmful language is used in archival description
  • 2021 – Present: Identification of gaps and silences in the University Archives and consideration of ways to grow collections and make community connections
  • 2020 – Present: Colonial Moniker Special Committee involvement
  • 2020 – 2021: Renaming of the Marvin Center to the University Student Center
  • 2016: President’s Archival Research Project

Future Projects

  • Audit and review description of archival content to identify harmful and exclusionary language. The Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) subgroup on reparative cataloging standards will be a valuable resource for these efforts. Start Date: 2022
  • Identify the terminology (events, people, places) to use in an audit to find historical counter-narratives for underrepresented communities already existing in Washingtoniana collections and with that information determine how to best enhance description. Start date: 2023
  • Using the communication tool templates from the OCLC Total Cost of Stewardship: Responsible Collection Building in Archives and Special Collections and policy examples from other institutions to edit the Washingtoniana Collection Development Policy and the University Archives Collection Development Policy to include language that confirms our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion serving as decision making components in SCRC collection building. Start date: 2023
  • Identifying areas where the labor collections could benefit from including historical records that support counterstories and surface otherwise hidden collections. Start date: 2023

Acknowledgements & References

The writing of our statement used the following resources for guidance, concise and thoughtful language, and inspiration.

Special Collections Staff

Senior Library Assistant, Special Collections Public Services
Collections Coordinator & Manuscripts Librarian
Senior Library Assistant, Digital Services
International Brotherhood of Teamsters Labor History Archivist