Penn State’s archival collections document a breadth of events and experiences, including collections relating to labor, literary, military, Pennsylvania, University, and many other histories. Within these topical areas, our collections include the voices of many marginalized persons and communities, including Black, Latino/a/x, LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and other communities. As a result, our collections document a breadth of peoples’ experiences, including activism, excellence, joy, hardship, racism, and violence. We acknowledge that our collections and their associated descriptions may include ableist, discriminatory, homophobic, offensive, racist, sexist, or violent content.
Current archival practice acknowledges that all description is inherently an active choice to include or exclude aspects of a collection. Due to the large, heterogeneous, and hierarchical nature of collections as well as the limitations of time and capacity, a complete description of every aspect of each item in our collections is impossible. As archivists, our choices of how (and whether) to describe or not describe collections impact their accessibility and discoverability. While we attempt to describe all collections, their creators, and the communities they represent accurately and respectfully, we acknowledge that we may not always succeed. The Eberly Family Special Collections Library endeavors to elevate the voices of persons and communities of those who have been traditionally excluded, hidden, or by archives and archivists in the past by:
- Acknowledging that our own biases impact the description we create and endeavoring to create ethical and respectful discovery points.
- Approaching archival labor as continuous and iterative.
- Researching and implementing community-driven vocabularies.
- Seeking creators’ and donors’ preferences in their preferred self-identification.
- Welcoming researcher feedback on incorrect, obfuscating, offensive, or harmful description.
Steps Toward a More Inclusive Repository
Building More Diverse Collections
- A Collection Development Plan which prioritizes increasing the diversity of experiences, perspectives, and voices found in our holdings.
- Acquiring materials directly from marginalized creators and communities to support artists’ work.
- Collaborating with the digital collections program to digitize diverse collections and make them more widely available.
- Documenting a more diverse student experience through oral history projects, such as the Penn State's international student oral history collection, the Black Alumni oral history collection, and the Latino/a/x student oral history collection.
Committing to Ethical Stewardship
Special Collections faculty and staff are committed to remediating legacy harmful description and creating more inclusive, accessible description moving forward. Our aim is to create descriptions that are accessible, discoverable, and responsive to the people and communities whose experiences are reflected in our collections. Ongoing work to implement these practices includes:
- Auditing collection-level description to identify obfuscating and harmful language.
- Developing an Inclusive Description Style Guide and Inclusive Description Resource Guide.
- Prioritizing more in-depth archival description for collections which document marginalized voices and experiences.
- Prioritizing creator and community-preferred language.
- Updating description for collections identified as having obfuscating, harmful, or racist language.
- Increasing the transparency of archival labor by including finding aid revision statements and in-depth processing information notes.
- Creating a baseline description for all archival collections to allow researchers access to minimally processed or unprocessed collections.
- Implementing more inclusive descriptive practices for all newly received collections moving forward in our accessioning and processing workflows.
How You Can Help Us
If you find something which is incorrect, obfuscating, offensive, or harmful, please let us know by completing this short survey.
Selected Additional Resources
- Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description
- Reimagine Descriptive Workflows: A Community-informed Agenda for Reparative and Inclusive Descriptive Practice
- Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices
- Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in the Archives
- Cultural Humility as a Framework for Anti-Oppressive Archival Description