Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Reimagine Descriptive Workflows

Description, subject analysis, classification, authority control, and cataloging practices are part of a powerful naming and labeling process in bibliographic archival description. Collections’ metadata include outdated and racist terminology that cause harm and contributes to experiences, memories, and achievements of communities being mischaracterized or overlooked.

It is time to interrogate the systems and structures libraries and archives rely on and to initiate reckoning with this painful history. An effective and sustainable remedy cannot be established without strong participation from the groups affected by the existing systems.

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the project Reimagine Descriptive Workflows seeks to unpack and address these harmful practices by convening a diverse group of experts, practitioners, and community members to determine ways of improving descriptive practices, tools, infrastructure, and workflows in libraries and archives. This series of collective, community-centered efforts will explore opportunities for reforming our systems and to chart a path toward implementation of antiracist and inclusive language in metadata descriptions at scale and at a community level.

Over the course of eight months, OCLC, in consultation with Shift Collective and an advisory group of community leaders, will:

  • Convene a conversation of community stakeholders about how to address the systemic issues of bias and racial equity within our current collection description infrastructure.
  • Share with member libraries the need to build more inclusive and equitable library collections and to provide description approaches that promote effective representation and discovery of previously neglected or mis-characterized peoples, events, and experiences.
  • Develop a community agenda that will be of great value in clarifying issues for those who do knowledge work in libraries, archives, and museums, identifying priority areas for attention from these institutions, and providing valuable guidance for those national agencies and suppliers.

As we seek to build respectful and reciprocal relationships with all community members, libraries and archives find that their efforts are impeded by the fact that discovery systems force users to search with or encounter harmful terms; it impacts the reputation of institutions who seek to create bridges to underrepresented communities.

This project is a significant landmark in repairing the bibliographic infrastructure that we all rely on. It will allow OCLC and other stakeholders an opportunity to listen and gain a better understanding of the problem space and to create possible, scalable pathways to address harmful descriptive practices. The community agenda, as a published output, will be used to frame future global community conversations, inform OCLC product pilots, and to identify further research and learning opportunities.




Reimagine Descriptive Workflows: An Antiracist Approach (Vimeo)
CILIP Webinar (UK) 
Presented by Merrilee Proffit 
Live Streamed November 3, 2021

Project briefing on "Reimagine Descriptive Workflows"; Use of the Homosaurus at U Kentucky Libraries (YouTube)
2021 LD4 Conference on Linked Data 
Presented by Merrilee Proffit 
Live Streamed July 21, 2021

Reimagining Description for Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections: an Anti-Racist Approach
ACRL 2021
Presented by Mary Sauer Games, Merrilee Proffitt
April 19, 2021

Blog Posts

Reimagine Descriptive Workflows: meeting the challenges of inclusive description in shared infrastructure
July 22, 2021 - by Merrilee Proffitt

‘Reimagine Descriptive Workflows’ in libraries and archives
May 6, 2021 - by Merrilee Proffitt



Early in our work, we consulted the definitions in the American Library Association’s Statement on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion:

“Equity” takes difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups.

“Diversity” can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual.

“Inclusion” means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

Advisory Group

Dr. Stacy Allison-Cassin, Citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario;Assistant Professor Faculty of Information, University of Toronto; Co-Lead, CFLA IM, Joint Committee on Subject Headings and Classification; Co-Chair, CFLA Joint Task Group on Indigenous Subject Headings; Lead, IFLA Wikidata and Wikibase Working Group

Jennifer Baxmeyer, Assistant University Librarian for Metadata Services, Princeton University; Chair, Program for Cooperative Cataloging Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Dorothy Berry, Digital Collections Program Manager at Houghton Library, Harvard University

Dr. Kimberley Bugg, Associate Library Director, AUC Woodruff Library Center

Camille Callison, University Librarian, University of the Fraser Valley; Chair of IFLA Indigenous Matters Section and Secretary of IEEE P2890™ Recommended Practice for Provenance of Indigenous Peoples’ Data.

Lillian Chavez, Library Director, Mescalero Community Library; President American Indian Library Association 2018-2019; Chair of ASCLA Tribal Librarians Interest Group

Trevor A. Dawes, Vice Provost for Libraries and Museums and May Morris University Librarian, University of Delaware

Jarret Martin Drake, Liberatory Memory Worker and PhD candidate of the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Bergis Jules, Senior Consultant, Shift Collective

Cellia Joe-Olsen, Heritage Advice Coordinator, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand. National Council Te Rōpū Whakahau. IFLA Indigenous Matters Standing Committee member

Katrina Tamaira, Research Librarian Māori, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand. Archifacts Editor: Journal of the Archives & Records Association of New Zealand Te Huinga Mahara

Damien Webb, Manager - Indigenous Engagement Branch, State Library of New South Wales

The Role of OCLC

OCLC occupies a critical place in the bibliographic ecosystem for library technical services and global discovery. OCLC staff and thousands of member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the most comprehensive global network of data about library collections.

“As a steward of the world’s library data, OCLC has an important role to play to help create inclusive descriptions,” said Mary Sauer-Games, Vice President of Global Product Management. “We are honored to work with community partners to examine and address obsolete, discriminatory and harmful language in bibliographic descriptions. This project is a significant step forward to address these issues on a scale that will result in lasting change.” Learn more about OCLC’s commitment to Advancing Racial Equity.