Work is underway to make Furman’s digital library collections more reflective of the diverse users who access them.
Nashieli Marcano, archivist and digital collections librarian, is leading an audit of the materials as a first step in the process. Her team has been developing a rubric that will be used to assess both specific materials and the library’s descriptions of those materials. The pilot project to test the new rubric will be a review of Furman’s digitized yearbooks, which date back to 1901.
From photos of student life to advertisements, contemporary users may encounter words, concepts and social conventions that are sensitive, offensive or potentially outdated.
“How can we ensure that our users do not get harmed while interacting with some of our content?” Marcano said.
The digital audit team assembled in August 2021 as part of a larger library audit team and began planning mid-fall. The pilot project with the yearbooks began this month. A Furman Libraries blog post includes a feedback form.
“This is an important process for us. As archivists and librarians, we are approaching it with cultural humility,” Marcano said. “We come in acknowledging our biases, but we’re open, we’re wanting to learn and continually improve our archival practices.”
She explained the project in greater detail in the following Q&A:
What prompted the audit?
“We’re at an important juncture, building to grow our collection and tell new stories. We want to look for more inclusive ways to describe our institutional history. It’s a way for us to reflect on our professional practices, how welcoming, how engaging our collections are to users.”
What do you hope to accomplish through the audit?
“We want the community to know that we’re doing our best to represent them and have collections that give them a sense of belonging. We want to use preferred lexicons and acknowledge when offensive and potentially harmful terms were used in the past. We’re asking, how can we not change history but find a way to contextualize it and help users situate events from the past? In addition, there are some archival silences that we’re reckoning with as an institution, voices from underrepresented communities that we need to uncover and celebrate.
What’s an example of an archival silence?
“Let’s say there’s a photo of two people and the woman is described only as Mrs. Husband’s name. What is her name? Who is she? We can take this opportunity to research this person or reach out to the community so that we can provide full names in our descriptions. Or you might see an image of 20 engineers and one is a woman. How can we make this image more discoverable for a person doing research about gender in STEM? It’s important to locate and respectfully describe the histories of these silent voices whenever possible.”
How might the audit shape the collecting process in the future?
“We’re ramping up our digital archival collections processing efforts to include born-digital materials, such as websites, emails and social media content. We’re anticipating growth of materials coming in and we’re setting up the infrastructure for their curation and long-term preservation. And given the increased level of interest of our communities in archives, we are focused on creating more diverse collections that facilitate engagement and inclusive access. This audit is a great reflective tool to inform our approaches to building new digital collections.”