NARA Reparative Description and Digitization Working Group (RDDWG)

In July 2021, the National Archives announced the establishment of NARA’s Reparative Description and Digitization Working Group (RDDWG), implementing a key recommendation of the Archival Description Subgroup within the Archivist’s Task Force on Racism (NARA Notice 2021-184). Since then, the RDDWG has been meeting regularly and work has begun under NARA’s framework for implementing Executive Order (E.O.) 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, as described in NARA Notice 2021-162.

Reparative archival description aims to remediate or contextualize potentially outdated or harmful language used in archival description and to create archival description that is accurate, inclusive, and community-centered.

The RDDWG has been reviewing guidance, standards, and processes relating to reparative archival description as well as benchmarking the work of peer institutions. Recently, the RDDWG developed Guiding Principles for Reparative Description at NARA. There are six guiding principles, dealing with:

  1. Transparency
  2. Language
  3. Institutional change
  4. Collaboration
  5. Iterative/reflective process
  6. Leadership

The attached document describes each principle in detail.

The RDDWG will use these principles to ensure that decisions around standards and processes are in alignment with the NARA’s vision for reparative description and equity.

These principles will guide the efforts of the Working Group as they begin to draft agency guidance for identifying and updating harmful language in current Catalog descriptions and authority records, and for agency-wide reparative descriptive practices going forward.

NARA’s reparative description efforts are in keeping with the efforts of numerous other institutions in the archival community. Library and Archives Canada addresses reparative description in action item 17 of their Indigenous Heritage Action Plan. Reparative description is discussed throughout the Society of American Archivists archival description blog: Descriptive Notes. The University Archives and Special Collections in the Healy Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston posted a statement on reparative description. The Princeton University Library hosts a description working group to describe collections respectfully. Tufts University provides a listing of additional reading on this issue. The Cataloging Lab provides a long list of statements on bias in library and archives description.

These are just a few examples of the many archives that are focusing on reparative description. I am proud that NARA is one among them.

Archivist of the United States

Attachment: Guiding Principles for Reparative Description

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