College of Charleston Archival Repositories Reparative Description Project
The primary mission of College of Charleston’s Archival Repositories is to evaluate, acquire, organize, preserve, and make available regionally significant and/or rare printed and archival materials to support the college curriculum and student, faculty, and patron research. The process of describing materials for access is iterative and requires continual engagement with core values and ethical obligations. Archival staff are committed to representing the contents, creators, and those depicted in our holdings accurately and respectfully. However, we acknowledge that, for generations, the same principles may not have been held in high regard by archival workers at the College of Charleston, the vast majority of whom were white and/or cisgender. As a result, archival descriptions for collections processed in the past may contain white-centric or otherwise exclusionary language that may be offensive or harmful to Black, Indigenous, and people of color and/or other historically under-represented and/or marginalized peoples. These communities have historically had less access to and privilege within libraries and archives and therefore have had less control over how they are represented and described.
Descriptive language used in our finding aids and catalog records was either written by the people and organizations that created the original material (creator-generated) or was created or approved by library staff (staff-generated). For example, offensive, creator-generated language may be transcribed and included in finding aids, catalog records or container labels according to standards governing archival arrangement and description. Retaining original language, even language that might be offensive, can provide important historical and cultural context about the people that created the materials and the society in which they lived. On the other hand, offensive, staff-generated language may be included as a result of established best practices that designate Library of Congress Subject Headings as the primary means of assigning descriptors in both library catalog records and finding aids. Unfortunately, controlled vocabularies and subject headings can be problematic and may contain oppressive and offensive terminology.
We stand with other archivists and archival memory workers committed to addressing these description issues. We will audit, review, and repair offensive descriptions using language that reflects our responsibility to describe people and organizations represented in our holdings in an accurate, empathetic, and ethical manner.
If you encounter oppressive or offensive language or terminology, please complete this form. We will review any feedback provided and update the description as appropriate.
We are indebted to Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center and Princeton University Library’s Special Collections for their statements on potentially harmful language in archival description. These statements were extraordinarily helpful as we attempted to craft our own.
We are equally indebted to the work of archivists and memory workers who are generating the necessary infrastructure and professional resources for framing ethical archival description. These include Dorothy Berry, Kelly Bolding, Michelle Caswell, Jackie Dean, Emily Drabinski, Jarrett Drake, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Jasmine Jones, Bergis Jules, Dominique Luster, Annie Tang, Sam Winn, Rachel Winston, and the collective labors of Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia.