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Reparative Archival Description Working Group: Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles

  1. Cultural humility: Cultural humility is a concept that emphasizes three central tenets: institutional accountability, life-long learning and critical self-reflection, and to recognize and challenge power imbalances. In our work, we ensure that our own positionalities are always forefronted, especially when we do not belong to the communities we are describing. This also involves this concept of normalizing not knowing, by embracing humility and allowing other forms of expertise to inform our decision making, particularly through community consultation.

  2. Slow archiving: Slow archives is a methodology that Kimberly Christen & Jane Anderson have proposed to counter the colonial paradigms rooted in much of traditional archival practice. We embrace slow archives by pursuing flexible practices that allow for changing course, and for prioritizing collaborative relationships with community stakeholders.

  3. Dismantling white supremacy: Inspired by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun’s resource, Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, we seek to actively depart from characteristics of white supremacy culture. Specifically, the tenant of “a continued sense of urgency,” which prohibits us from democratic and thoughtful decision-making. 

  4. Transparency: We aim to center transparency in multiple aspects of our work. One way that we do so is by creating standardized reparative descriptive notes for finding aids and MARC records. These include a processing information note and revision statement supplying dates of revision and standardized language providing information on the harmful language that was remediated. We also retain and provide access to previous versions of records. Ultimately, our goal is not to simply erase previous archival description, but to offer proper contextualization, and if necessary, revise language that may be harmful to users.

  5. Iteration: We frame the work we do as iterative, drawing attention to the need for resources and workflows to be assessed for impact and omissions over time.

  6. Collaboration and consultation: We place emphasis on developing and maintaining mutually respectful and dynamic partnerships with communities. This is by no means the easiest way to conduct reparative work, but it is important to acknowledge that reducing harm to marginalized communities takes time, effort, and establishing and reinforcing trust with collaborators.