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Making space for marginalized artists, authors, and creators in our records.

Ethical Cataloging Statement

Cultural heritage organizations around the world continually reevaluate their practices in order to foster inclusion and more accurately describe the people and cultures represented in their collections. We acknowledge that the language we use to catalog and describe our materials needs improvement. Standardized vocabularies, such as those managed by the Library of Congress or the Getty Research Institute, are constantly reviewed and updated to expand representation and correct biases. But we still sometimes lack authorized terms to accurately capture the experiences of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, or artists from non-Western countries. And some existing terms might use outdated language that we now understand to be harmful. 

Many of our records are missing information about an artist’s race, gender, and culture. This makes it difficult for us to determine which or how many of our resources pertain to underrepresented groups. It is our responsibility to prevent artists from marginalized cultures from being misrepresented, overlooked, or forgotten in our collections.

We are keeping abreast of ethical cataloging practices within the scholarly community and confronting and rectifying problems in our records when they arise. We commit to maintaining transparency regarding our policies and procedures. We invite community input and welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you encounter offensive or harmful language or if you have concerns about representation in our finding aids, catalog records, digital collections, exhibitions, publications, social media, or elsewhere. Email us at library@philamuseum.org or call 215-684-7650. 


Statement as of April 2021

Ethical Cataloging & Bias Remediation Resources

A Progressive's Style Guide
Guidelines published by the SumOfUs organization regarding how to combat discriminatory language, seek out information when unsure, and use examples that reflect a broad range of identities and perspectives.

Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP)
A volunteer-run organization comprising a loose association of archivists, librarians, and allied professionals in the area responding to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.

ARLIS/NA Conference Panel (2019): Catalogers' Judgements: Ethical Cataloging and Artists from Underrepresented Groups
"This panel explores judgement calls made by catalogers that can affect access to material on or by artists from underrepresented groups and marginalized identities. Panelists present local solutions, best practices, and broader thoughts on the most effective ways to highlight this material for the user while being respectful of the artists' personal and, in some cases, private information." 

Curated Resources on Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Equity for Libraries

Guide to Conscious Editing at Wilson Special Collections Library (UNC Libraries)
Through 15 articles and more than 150 pages, the guide details the description decisions that archival and library specialists at UNC-Chapel Hill have made. It provides the rationale and context for each, along with before-and-after examples of legacy descriptions and edited language. It also indicates how the University Libraries is beginning to apply conscious editing principles to catalog records for books and other published materials. Among topics that the guide includes are addressing racist language, rectifying misrepresentations of people of color, updating ableist language, centering the experiences of Indigenous peoples and differentiating the identity of a woman from that of her husband.

Homosaurus: An International LGBTQ+ Linked Data Vocabulary
"This vocabulary is intended to function as a companion to broad subject term vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings. [It] is a robust and cutting edge vocabulary of LGBTQ-specific terminology that enhances the discoverability of LGBTQ resources." 

Incluseum
"The Incluseum advances new ways of being a museum through dialogue, community building and collaborative practice related to inclusion in museums." Publications provided on the website section ""Tools & Publication" include

LUX: Yale Collections Discovery
"The Bias Awareness and Responsibility Committee is tasked with considering issues of implicit and explicit bias within the knowledge systems that manage our heritage collections data, its exposure to users in multiple channels, including via the new cross-collection discovery platform (LUX), and with developing a series of recommendations for addressing these concerns."

Protocols for Native American Archives
This document identifies best practices for culturally responsive care and use of American Indian material held by non-tribal organization

Temple University SCRC Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description and Cataloging
Last updated in 2018. Ethical cataloging statement for Temple University Special Collections Research Center, which encourages public feedback.

University of Nebraska Omaha Libraries: Statement on Harmful Material
Last updated in 2019. Ethical cataloging statement for University of Nebraska Omaha Libraries' Archives and Special Collections welcoming public feedback.

Words Matter: An Unfinished Guide to Word Choices in the Cultural Sector
Compiled by the National Museum of World Cultures (Tropenmuseum, Africa Museum, Museum Ethnology, Wereldmuseum) this publication creates a dialogue about appropriate word use in cultural heritage and museum settings. "The aim of the publication is to provide more insight into the political and social connotations of certain words that are used in museums...It should enable readers to make more informed choices about the words they use." It is a work in progress and does not claim to be comprehensive, but "provides a basis for further talks and is an invitation to others to contribute to further development."  The link provided here will take you to a web page with more information and links to download the document in English and Dutch.

Voices in the Library Panel from the American Philosophical Society's Past, Present and Future of Libraries Conference (2018)

Recent Activities

  • Creating or enhancing records for African American artists held in the museum's collection in Wikidata (record set) and the Library of Congress' Name Authority File. 
    • Using our library collection to enrich available metadata for these artists.
    • Identifying gaps in collection coverage and making recommendations for collection development.
  • Updating agent records in ArchivesSpace for people whose names are recorded as "Mrs. [Husband's Name]"
    • We have updated the records to include the women's full names, maiden names, birth and death dates, and link to authority records when possible in order to give them an identity separate from their husband.
    • Example: https://pmalibrary.libraryhost.com/agents/people/1020. Peaches Browning was formerly recorded as "Browning, Edward, Mrs." as the main form of her name. We have now modified it to have her authorized name as the main form, with her married and maiden names as alternate names. 
  • Auditing finding aids and creating agent records for people who are represented in the collections
    • We are reviewing our finding aids for harmful or problematic language, using guidelines such as the Anti-Racist Descriptions Resources created by Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia. 
    • We are creating agent records to give voice to people who appear in our archival collections and create better access to our materials through people's names. 

The Bias Remediation for Innovation and Data Innovation Team is a museum-wide team tasked with creating a holistic institutional vision for how we digitally present potentially challenging objects to the public. As we consider issues of implicit and explicit bias within the knowledge systems that manage our art collections data and its exposure to users in multiple channels, we will develop a series of recommendations and processes for addressing these concerns. To combat the tendency to approach remediation as projects contained within departmental silos, BRID will provide an ongoing, consistent forum for thoughtful engagement, open communication, and shared understanding across departments about common concerns, as well as a space in which to discuss remediation issues as they arise.


Long-term Goals: The museum holds a vast array of objects, and how we describe and tell stories about these objects is a fundamental aspect of our work. In order to present our collection in meaningful, engaging, and relevant ways, we must continue to adapt to best practices for the presentation of information about cultures and people, and to consistently update our language and terminology to reflect the most appropriate terms. Recognizing the potential that elements of our collection and its presentation have to cause harm requires us to change what we can, and give context for what we cannot.

We recognize this work will be extensive and ongoing, and as such we are prioritizing reparative work for objects which are accessible to the public. Informed by the values of collaboration, transparency, responsiveness, and self-reflection we will work to find effective and impactful ways to improve our presentation of the museum collections. The BRID Innovation Team will:

  • Develop criteria and processes to be used by staff to address such concerns for each of the focus groups (titles/data, imagery, and provenance & histories)
  • Create documentation in the form of a toolkit
  • Facilitate regularly occurring meetings open to a larger group of stakeholders
  • Apply the criteria and processes towards the ongoing evaluation of our collection

We expect to complete these initial tasks to take 6 months to complete (September 2022- February 2023)

Current Work:

  • Assessing current processes and gathering objects which need remediation or contextualization
  • Researching peer institution best practices in bias remediation

 

Last updated 8/24/2022