VRC Commitment to Ethical and Antiracist Digital Stewardship

Like many archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions reckoning with inequality and anti-black racism inherent in their structures in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, the Visual Resources Center recognizes that our digital collections—developed in consultation with faculty and students by image requests and orders— are a living archive that grows organically in response to prioritized areas of art history research and teaching, the parameters of which have been historically narrow. The metadata schemas, cataloging practices, and vocabulary authorities (i.e. Getty Vocabularies and Library of Congress Subject Headings) we use to describe images of art and architecture in our digital collections workflows can create and perpetuate art information that is outdated, incorrect, and actively harmful to many individuals and cultures throughout history. The user communities we intend to serve today (i.e. faculty, students, staff, and users of our publicly available digital collections) are not well served by this narrow approach. During this moment of reflection and growing awareness, we also have an opportunity to adapt our workflows to represent a more inclusive definition of “art and architecture” and related practices, aided in part by our digital collections’ ability to be dynamically and organically grown. Simultaneously, we can prioritize the ethical care, maintenance, and sustainability of a user-centered digital collections program in support of teaching and research. The VRC staff commits to becoming better stewards of our digital collections in the following ways: 

  • Actively reach out to and serve as a resource for faculty, instructors, and students working on topics related to artists and movements that are underrepresented in visual culture. Prioritize ethical collection development in the areas most relevant to their teaching and research.
  • Participate in the community of visual resources catalogers researching and practicing critical cataloging, a theoretical approach which analyzes and addresses the ethical issues of metadata and classification. Implement critical cataloging practices to repair and improve metadata records that are misleading or incorrect in our metadata projects, prioritizing areas of the collection aligned with active faculty and student teaching and research. Work with individual artist- and cultural authority-produced materials (i.e. use artists’ statements or public-facing web resources made and maintained by the culture we are describing) to source appropriate metadata. Submit corrections and additions to the art vocabulary authorities we routinely utilize as a way to contribute to the field beyond the VRC’s password-protected collections.
  • Continually educate ourselves on antiracism, institutional racism, allyship, and inclusivity in the library, museum, and digital collections fields through research and professional development. Apply that education to our digital collections work and our research support services, including reference and instruction. Collaborate with campus colleagues and collections whenever possible.

Bridget Madden, Associate Director 
Allie Scholten, Digital Collections Manager
July 1, 2020