A choice to empower

Carolina librarians and archivists are updating the tools of their trade to give researchers a more accurate and inclusive view of materials.

A choice to empower
(Image courtesy of University Libraries)

Let’s say you wanted to research the papers of Julian Shakespeare Carr (1892-1923) in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

A search of the University Libraries’ website or on your favorite search engine would lead you to the Carr papers finding aid, a description of the papers prepared by Wilson Library archivists to help guide researchers.

There, you would read in part that the papers document Carr’s “financial interest in tobacco, textiles, and banking; affiliations with the Methodist Church, the Democratic Party in North Carolina, and organizations commemorating the Confederacy; and philanthropic support of institutions of higher education, particularly the University of North Carolina.”

But two years ago, Wilson Library’s processing archivists added the following:

“In keeping with the white supremacy movements in North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century, Carr defended the institution of slavery, claiming it had been beneficial to the enslaved, and argued for denying full citizenship rights to African-Americans.”

The addition is part of an effort in Wilson Library to rework online descriptions for collections of papers, as well as catalog records for published materials. This work seeks to replace racist and derogatory language and to add information that presents more balanced accounts — for example, by indicating if someone was an enslaver or by highlighting collection material about African Americans. Names of enslaved individuals are added when they are known and, in some cases, gender inequities also are addressed.

Read more about how the University is contextualizing archival materials.