With support from the Mellon Organization, OCLC "sponsored the Reimagine Descriptive Workflows project to better understand and address harm caused by cultural institutions’ collection descriptions."
The project report, written by Rachel L. Frick and Merrilee Proffitt, is entitled Reimagine Descriptive Workflows: A Community-Informed Agenda for Reparative and Inclusive Descriptive Practice. A passion for developing corrective and inclusive measures for appropriate language is heard throughout the fifty-page report and a framework of guidance for enacting change is included.
From the Executive Summary
The Reimagine Descriptive Workflows project convened a group of experts, practitioners, and community members to determine ways of improving descriptive practices, tools, infrastructure, and workflows in libraries and archives. The result, this community agenda, is offered to the broad library and archives community of practice. The agenda draws together insights from the convening, related research, and operational work that is ongoing in the field. All institutions hold power to make meaningful changes in this space, and all share collective responsibility.
The agenda is not a “how-to guide,” but it is constructed to instruct and chart a path toward reparative and inclusive description. The agenda is divided into two distinct parts. The first part provides contextual information regarding the project, the convening, and the methods used to create this agenda. It also frames the historical, local, and workflow challenges and tensions to consider when approaching inclusive and reparative metadata work.
The second part, “A Framework of Guidance,” and the Appendix, suggest actions and exercises that can help frame local priorities and areas for change and also provides examples to inspire local work. Inclusive and reparative description work is highly dependent on local context, and therefore a specific course of action must be created that is unique to each institution’s readiness and position relative to communities.
Why Reimagine? And What?
The word “reimagine” in Reimagine Descriptive Workflows was chosen intentionally to communicate the level of creativity and problem-solving logic required to address the challenge of transforming current descriptive practice, infrastructure, and its supporting community of practice. To radically reimagine descriptive workflows is to examine foundational, systemic changes needed to transform the profession at its core. But the radical reimagining required for transformative change to the profession is not new nor does it take place in a vacuum. It is based on decades of work by many who have applied energy and effort through research and advocacy in this field of librarianship and archival practice. It is to those in the vanguard that the greater library and archives profession owes a debt of gratitude, so that we can radically reimagine today
The framework of guidance is organized into three categories:
• Organizational shifts: Changes at the institutional and organizational level in terms of restructuring priorities, budgets, and staffing that require investment from leadership.
• Operational workflows: Changes needed in day-to-day practice. These changes require support from institutional policy, priorities, and funding. Organizational leadership needs to support mid-level managers and practitioners in implementation.
• Professional and personal development: Investment in education and mind-shift. This work is for everyone in the organization, regardless of role, and must be ongoing.
Report's Final Thoughts
The level of work and effort outlined in this report is far reaching and even daunting. It can be difficult, as an individual, to see that the efforts of a single person, or even a single organization, will make a difference. But time and time again, Reimagine Descriptive Workflows convening participants, interviewees, and the project advisory group reported that all work starts small, cumulative effort does have an impact, and even small achievements should be celebrated. But the celebration isn’t the end of our work; it just marks another opportunity to contribute, another starting line. It is the fuel of future work.