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Ethical Description

This guide provides catalogers and metadata practitioners interested in ethical description with questions to consider, examples, and resources to incorporate into their metadata work.

Making a Commitment to Ethical Description

Making a Commitment to Ethical Description at the UCLA Libraries and Archives

This Statement outlines the commitment by UCLA cataloging and metadata practitioners to assess and align our cataloging and metadata work toward more critically and ethically informed anti-racist description practices.

Purpose of this Guide

This LibGuide is meant to aid catalogers and metadata practitioners in metadata creation and revision when approaching library resources having content that is considered harmful and/or when describing people within metadata records. 

Critical cataloging and ethical description issues are complex. Depending upon the types of materials being described, library or department policies, and which cataloging conventions are being used, metadata practitioners and catalogers may find themselves transcribing offensive words in a title, making notes about marginalized individuals or painful circumstances, or adding subject headings that are outdated. This LibGuide attempts to guide decision-making in these circumstances and to consider their impact on the user. It should be considered a tool for creating a more inclusive, equitable, diverse, and anti-racist environment for library staff and patrons.

How to Use this Guide

This guide is intentionally non-prescriptive, as there can be many approaches to addressing ethical description issues in metadata work. 

This guide provides a framework for decisions and actions that individual metadata practitioners can take for making catalog records or finding aids more inclusive, and might inform departmental or unit-level cataloging policies related to ethical description. 

This guide is organized into sections by the metadata elements that may include problematic language and/or pose some critical cataloging considerations. Each section includes an introduction to the ethical considerations of the metadata element, questions to consider when recording the element, and examples of possible approaches to different metadata scenarios. The questions and examples included come from MARC cataloging, digital collections, and archival description contexts, which metadata practitioners may adapt into their specific work.

Guide credit

Created in 2023 by Ethical Description Sub-Team Members:

  • Paromita Biswas, Resource Acquisitions and Metadata Services
  • Jason Burton, Sciences User Engagement
  • Eileen Keegan, Resource Acquisitions and Metadata Services
  • Amanda Mack, Film and Television Archive
  • Rebecca Fenning Marschall, Clark Library
  • Caroline Miller, Resource Acquisitions and Metadata Services
  • Anju Mitchell, Resource Acquisitions and Metadata Services
  • Lizeth Ramírez, Library Special Collections 
  • Nina M. Schneider, Clark Library
  • Erica Zhang, Resource Acquisitions and Metadata Services

Updates to this Guide

This LibGuide is a living document. We encourage additional examples or requests for guidance if a particular circumstance isn’t addressed in this guide. It will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it remains useful, relevant, and up-to-date.