Reparative Archival Description in Special Collections

The Special Collections Research Center is committed to recognizing and addressing the historical harm that archives, archival collecting, and descriptive language have caused marginalized and underrepresented communities. Through the work of a group of SCRC department members over the past year and a half, the SCRC has established dedicated, ongoing efforts to center reparative archival description as an essential part of our department’s work.

What is Reparative Archival Description?

Historical materials created in different time periods and contexts may include viewpoints, positions, norms, and values by the original creators that may be harmful to our researchers. Our collection guides, digitized collections, metadata, and original content created by archivists may also include language that is harmful to many communities represented in the collections in a variety of ways that we continually strive to identify and address.

When we find harmful language that was created by a library employee, we will update it. When we identify harmful language by the original creator, we will provide additional context.

We strive to sustain ongoing, intentional work to create new, inclusive descriptive language through community engagement and collaboration. We seek to empower people and communities in this work to enhance archival research and representation. This practice is an iterative process and we hope to remain flexible and proactive in regards to evolving terms and languages.

How You Can Help

We invite our researchers and community members to help us identify harmful language in our collections. We know that we cannot identify every instance of harmful description, so we welcome feedback from you and our community of researchers. Please contact us at if you encounter problematic or harmful language in our collection guides, digitized collections, historical timelines, or other collection descriptions.

We will review the term or description and take necessary action to update it in a way that balances the preservation of the original context, emerging archival practices, and our ongoing commitment to describe materials with respectful and inclusive descriptions. This can look like changing the description or providing additional context, which would also help make the material more discoverable to future researchers.

Visit the Special Collections Research Center’s About Reparative Archival Description page to find additional resources about reparative archival description, as well as our goals and ongoing work to identify and repair harmful description in our collections.

The Special Collections Research Center is currently open by appointment only.  Please contact us at for appointments or any questions. You can also submit a request to use materials, and we will email you with available appointment times. Also, please feel free to explore our online holdings at Rare and Unique Digital Collections.