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Guiding Statement of Principle for Descriptive Practice

Library users and staff may encounter harmful or problematic terminology in their library’s catalogue. Libraries have been complicit in perpetuating a knowledge organization system reflective of a colonial worldview and maintaining colonial approaches to descriptive practice. Libraries using Sitka Evergreen’s Integrated Library System have been using controlled, standardized vocabulary derived from Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to describe and provide subject-based catalogue access to library collections. LCSH terminology used to describe library materials on topics of Indigenous Peoples and cultures have long been recognized as biased, outdated, offensive, and in need of updating to align more closely with preferred terminology, language in use, and providing improved subject-based access to library materials on these topics. 

A shift from reliance upon LCSH for describing library materials on Indigenous topics offers libraries an opportunity to challenge and decenter the cognitive imperialism inherent in LCSH and standardized descriptive practices in order to provide respectful and equitable access to collections. 

As a library member of a consortium, we are committed to:

  • Ongoing learning with humility from professional resources and projects to inform approaches and to improve descriptive practices

  • Centering care and awareness for library user communities in the ways we approach descriptive practices 

  • Welcoming diverse perspectives by engaging and consulting library user communities

  • Perceiving the catalogue as a “living” resource to be maintained and updated with evolving changes to subject-based terminology and descriptive practices  

  • Removing inaccurate, outdated, biased, and offensive subject-based terminology to be replaced with updated subject-based terminology that aims to accurately describe library materials and provide subject-based access with consideration to equitable and inclusive access and retrieval of library materials on Indigenous topics

  • Engaging with professional development opportunities and resources to inform approaches and to continually improve descriptive practices

  • Acknowledging the intersectionality of this work, and the harmful effects of LCSH terminology upon diverse groups of library user communities. Future phases of this work will consider and update subject-based terminology for describing materials on topics such as, IBPOC, women, 2SLGBTQ+, neurodiverse people, and people with disabilities.

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