UNC-Chapel Hill Releases Conscious Guide to Editing

Driving Equity in Discoverability

In June of 2022, the University Libraries of the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill released a 168-page publication. entitled A Guide To Conscious Editing at Wilson Special Collections Library, provides examples for modifying descriptive language associated with their collections in an attempt to more equitably represent the full spectrum of the UNC community. The publication is positioned as being a “guide compiling the practices library staff have refined as they update, edit and create new archival finding aids. 

An introduction frames the rationale behind the guide:

As part of The Reckoning Initiative at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries, librarians and archivists at the Wilson Special Collections Library are working to rewrite and refine the language used to describe the Library’s extensive collections and records on the American South. The Library recognizes the enormous responsibility it has not only in collecting a diversity of voices and perspectives but also in composing, framing, and presenting descriptive information about collections.

Among other topics, the publication’s table of contents includes discussions of such challenges  as:

  • Centering Indigenous Epistemologies
  • Rectifying Ableist Language
  • Rectifying the Erasure and Misrepresentation of People of Color
  • Gendering and Misgendering 
  • Revealing the Woman Behind Mrs. Husband’s Name
  • Describing Relationships of Power by Identifying People Claimed as Property in Family Papers
  • Removing the Invisible Norm of Protestant Christianity. 

Short bibliographies accompany each distinct chapter which may prove useful to the reader. In addition, the disparate bibliographies have been compiled in a single segment at the back of the book. 

One final quote from the guide that may be indicative of the spirit behind the work is this:

Librarians and archivists cannot operate under the presumption that they (and only they) know what is important to all peoples and cultures. An approach of cultural humility, as with the work of conscious editing, forces us to wrestle with critical questions: How might we honor the lived experiences and knowledge of the marginalized in our library collections? How might we dismantle oppressive structures without using the trapping of white supremacy? How do we build and create a system that is justice-oriented and derived? Tangling with these questions, and being comfortable with the process and with the unknowing, is at the very heart of our cultural humility approach.

Worthwhile reading, even if not actively engaged in this type of work!