DPLA Metadata Working Group introduces expanded Statement on Potentially Harmful Content

By DPLA, January 11, 2021.
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Happy New Year!

The Digital Public Library of America brings together resources and collections from institutions across the country, all on one easily accessible platform. Because of this, DPLA has the ability to inform people about little-known collections and resources as well help coordinate and model best practices in the library/archives field with regard to our DEI values, descriptive standards, and ethical issues pertaining to rights and intellectual property.

Following on the excellent work done in 2020 by the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice (IDEAS) taskforce to develop the DPLA IDEAS Statement, the Metadata Working Group (MWG) began drafting a Statement on Potentially Harmful Content in August 2020 based on their initial work on the Black Women’s Suffrage Statement of the same name. The MWG is charged with “evaluating the need for and developing metadata quality guidelines, documentation, and training to improve the quality of metadata at DPLA and beyond,” so work on this document was a natural next step.

The Network Council positioned the IDEAS statement as “… a first step toward these larger goals and frames our collective commitment to an authentic reckoning with our past and an active stance toward doing better for the future.” The MWG sees this new statement as another step in putting this position into practice. With sensitivity towards the diverse nature of DPLA users, we sought to position DPLA’s content as a valuable historical resource while also acknowledging the role of cultural heritage institutions in upholding the history of racism, cultural supremacy, and systemic intolerance. We hope to illustrate the ways librarians and archivists are already working to dismantle this legacy and how users can participate in that process. 

In early summer of 2020, the Metadata Working Group revised the Statement on Potentially Harmful Content for the Black Women’s Suffrage portal. DPLA staff member Audrey Altman wrote the initial draft of that statement. We gratefully acknowledge her work to provide the first draft, which strongly influenced the final statement. The Statement for the Black Women’s Suffrage Portal focused on content that may specifically appear in that portal including depictions of racism and misogynoir topics.

To encourage consistency, reduce duplication, and harness synergies, the MWG chose to use the Harmful Language Statement from the Black Women’s Suffrage portal as its starting point for the statement for the greater DPLA portal. The BWS statement provided a solid foundation for the MWG to adapt for use with the entirety of the DPLA portal. The main adaptations are: 1) generalizing and broadening the introduction to recognize that DPLA may contain a wide variety of materials that might be harmful; 2) adding a sub-section detailing the possible types of harmful content;  3) adding examples of work libraries and archives are already doing to address the issue (such as the DPLA IDEAS Statement and creating new standardized vocabularies for description).

The final draft of the Statement was reviewed favorably by the Advisory Council in December 2020 and is currently under review for adoption by the Network Council following its upcoming February 2021 meeting. 

Thank you to the Metadata Working Group members and DPLA staff for their efforts in developing the Harmful Language Statement:

Audrey Altman, DPLA 

Greta Bahnemann, Minnesota Digital Library

Jeremy Bartczak, Digital Virginias

Leanne Finnigan, PA Digital, past co-chair

Teresa Hebron, Mountain West Digital Library, co-chair

Nicole Lawrence, Digital Library of Georgia

Amelia Mowry, Michigan Service Hub

Shaneé Murrain, DPLA

Sarah Seymore, Orbis Cascade

Penelope Shumaker, Ohio Digital Network, co-chair

Scott Williams, DPLA

With thanks, 

Teresa Hebron

Penelope Shumaker

DPLA Metadata Working Group Co-chairs

For more about the work to be done to live up to our common commitments to equity and inclusion in 2021 and beyond, please join DPLA on Friday, January 15th, at 2 pm ET for a community conversation, Reckoning with Our Pasts + Building Our Futures, presented as part of our Open Board + Community Meeting. Opening remarks by DPLA board member Elaine Westbrooks of UNC-Chapel Hill will be followed by a panel discussion with Cecily Marcus of the University of Minnesota Libraries, Marcia Walker-McWilliams of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), DPLA’s Shaneé Yvette Murrain, and Penelope Shumaker of the State Library of Ohio and the DPLA Metadata Working Group. Please register here.