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This page gathers the Rubenstein Library Technical Services (RLTS) department’s guidelines and policies related to inclusive description. RLTS seeks to create description that is inclusive, meaning that it is accurate, clear, and welcoming for all users. We regularly edit our description and refine our practices as we learn more about our collections and the communities, organizations, or individuals documented within them.

Creating inclusive description is a foundational practice underlying many RLTS activities – we create new collection guides or catalog records for collections that lack them; we update or add new subject or name access points to a record; we enhance records with new terminology or creator-supplied language, including non-English description for collections created by non-English speakers. Inclusive description principles shape how we describe the contents and creators of our library’s collections (this is one reason our style guide is called “How We Describe”). It often includes the library’s “remediated” or “reparative” description workflows, where we edit or add context to existing catalog records or other resources that contain outdated biases, legacy summaries, or harmful terms or language. We also regularly “reprocess” or “recatalog” collections that need more description to be discoverable or accessible. Ultimately, we want every collection or item record in Rubenstein Library to feature inclusive description. Our work is iterative and ongoing, and we welcome collaborators and contributors.

Guiding principles for description

Adopted July 2020 by Rubenstein Library Technical Services Department.

The Rubenstein Library Technical Services Department (RLTS) acknowledges the historical role of libraries and archives, including our own institution, in amplifying the voices of those with political, social, and economic power, while omitting and erasing the voices of the oppressed. We have developed these Guiding Principles for Description as the first step in our ongoing commitment to respond to this injustice.

  1. We will use inclusive and accessible language when describing the people represented by or documented in our materials. We commit to continually educate ourselves on evolving language and practices of inclusivity and accessibility.
  2. We will prioritize facts and accuracy, and resist editorializing, valorizing, or euphemistic narratives or phrases in our description. This includes a commitment to revisit and revise our past description.
  3. When describing our collections, we will purposefully seek and document the presence and activities of marginalized communities and voices.
  4. We welcome and will seek to incorporate input and feedback on our descriptive choices from the communities and people represented by and in our materials.
  5. We will be transparent about the origin of our description, and our role in adding or replacing description. We will also commit to increased transparency about our own institution’s past descriptive practices.
  6. We will advocate for and celebrate library description, and the essential labor and expertise of the library practitioners who create and maintain that description, as crucial for any ongoing preservation of, access to, and research within library collections.

How we describe: Rubenstein Library Technical Services style guide

This guide codifies RLTS’s local language and stylistic choices across all descriptive platforms. It intends to affirm the RLTS Guiding Principles for Description and give guidance for staff creating and editing the library’s description of special collections materials. This guide advises staff about how to write inclusive, anti-racist descriptions of our collections, including description of inherently racist or harmful items, and encourages description that demonstrates respect and care for the people or communities documented in our collections, particularly marginalized and historically oppressed populations.

Guidelines for description of slavery and enslaved people

Many collections in Rubenstein Library contain documentation of slavery in the United States and other regions of the Western Hemisphere. This document seeks to formalize Rubenstein Library Technical Services policies and present a unified, department-wide approach for library description of items and collections documenting slavery and enslaved people.

Additional resources and references