Ethical Cataloging and Racism in Special Collections Public

Cataloging is an ethical act, as it ensures discoverability of all library resources, regardless of the content. In special collections, where materials are typically shelved in closed stacks, cataloging is even more important; without a detailed, accurate record, items remain literally hidden. These ethical challenges become more pronounced when cataloging items which espouse ideas with which the cataloger disagrees. Materials expressing racist viewpoints frequently appear in special collections. Although facing racism can be uncomfortable for catalogers, the potential harm caused by minimizing racism should outweigh this discomfort. In special collections, which often hold historical collections, minimizing racism risks presenting a whitewashed version of history. While some materials will still be findable, others will be hidden. In this chapter, the author describes her experiences cataloging racist materials in special collections. Using examples from her own work, she discusses making decisions, the outcomes of those decisions, and provides suggestions for establishing local policies.


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