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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This page collates DEI resources for people working in the CMU University Libraries

Mission Statement

The Inclusive Description working group was formed in 2021 in response to the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries 2020-2025 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan’s call to address offensive and outdated historical language used in describing collection materials found in the libraries’ catalog, archival description, and digital collection. 

We acknowledge that descriptive standards, the unconscious biases of staff, and institutional biases have led to descriptions that may be dated, harmful, and offensive to members of marginalized communities. We are committed to implementing restorative practices to remediate past actions that have described or portrayed these communities in harmful and inaccurate ways. Using the values outlined below, we aim to revise the libraries’ cataloging and archival descriptions to be more inclusive and less harmful. 

Values:

  • Cultural Competency: “the ability to function with awareness, knowledge, and interpersonal skill when engaging people of different backgrounds, assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors.”
  • Inclusivity: 
  • Commitment and accountability: We understand that the work of inclusive and ethical description is a continuous endeavor and that descriptive terminology is constantly evolving. 
  • Transparency: We want our colleagues and users to know what we are doing to address the harmful and outdated language in our collections. Transparency sparks and enables collaboration, and ensures we can be held accountable.
  • Collaboration: We feel strongly that collaboration with our stakeholders (both inside and outside of the libraries) is vital to the success of this project and the libraries commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Goals: 

  • Raise awareness in the library
  • Create a roadmap to address offensive and outdated language used in describing collection materials found in the libraries’ catalog, archival description, and digital collection.

Cataloging

The cataloging team is responsible for creating and maintaining catalog records to enable discovery and access for a variety of resources acquired by the library for use by the CMU community. This work includes utilizing and modifying records shared by other libraries, as well as the creation of original records to be shared with the library community based on national and international descriptive standards. Our team is committed to identifying and replacing harmful, offensive, and outdated terminology found in the subject headings of older records within our library catalog by using the most current controlled subject access vocabularies and thesauri available to us. We are also investigating ways to ensure the currency of our bibliographic data as ongoing revisions are made to established vocabularies to optimize the discoverability and accessibility of our resources. Feel free to reach out to Kristin Heath (Interim Head of Cataloging), kheath@andrew.cmu.edu, with any questions or concerns.  

University Archives

The University Archives is responsible for stewarding the history and legacy of Carnegie Mellon University. As Archivists, we preserve, organize, describe, and make accessible records that have enduring value to the institution, its alumni, and researchers. As part of this process, in collaboration with the Metadata Specialist we make decisions about what language to use and how to describe individuals, groups, and communities in a way that will allow researchers to find relevant materials.  Problematic language found in our finding aids may originate from language used by the record creator, or might have been unintentionally created by archivists or staff. The original language used by creators is often reflected by Archivists during this process to add historical context. For example, we may choose to keep the original folder assigned by the creator. We also acknowledge that archives are not neutral and that this process is ongoing. 

When describing the digital objects in these collections -- including historical publications and rare books -- we use “controlled vocabularies” maintained by external bodies. These controlled vocabularies and other traditional descriptive practices such as Library of Congress Subject Headings can be outdated, biased, and problematic, especially for marginalized peoples. 

What are the University Libraries Doing to Remediate Outdated, Harmful, and Offensive Language?
The University Libraries is committed to the remediation of historical descriptive language and the work of critical cataloging. We are in the process of developing guidelines for remediating harmful descriptions and updating finding aids to include warnings for collections with sensitive materials. You can contact Crystal Johnson, Community Collections Processing Archivist at cjohnso2@andrew.cmu.edu.
 

Working group membership