Article Type

Full-Length Paper

Publication Date





Objective: We consider how data librarians can take antiracist action in education and consultations. We attempt to apply QuantCrit thinking, particularly to demographic datasheets.

Methods: We synthesize historical context with modern critical thinking about race and data to examine the origins of current assumptions about data. We then present examples of how racial categories can hide, rather than reveal, racial disparities. Finally, we apply the Model of Domain Learning to explain why data science and data management experts can and should expose experts in subject research to the idea of critically examining demographic data collection.

Results: There are good reasons why patrons who are experts in topics other than racism can find it challenging to change habits from Interoperable approaches to race. Nevertheless, the Census categories explicitly say that they have no basis in research or science. Therefore, social justice requires that data librarians should expose researchers to this fact. If possible, data librarians should also consult on alternatives to habitual use of the Census racial categories.

Conclusions: We suggest that many studies are harmed by including race and should remove it entirely. Those studies that are truly examining race should reflect on their research question and seek more relevant racial questions for data collection.


antiracism, data consultations, data collection, QuantCrit, racial demographics, social justice, race classification, data categories


The authors would like to thank the feedback of the anonymous reviewers, as well as the audience at RDAP when this was initially presented, for shaping our conceptualization and expression of these complex issues. Thank you all for your insights and gifts of wisdom. Disclosures: The content of this article is based upon a panel presentation at RDAP Summit 2021 titled “Data Consultations, Racism, and Critiquing Colonialism in Demographic Datasheets” available at https://osf.io/3uyzq.

Corresponding Author

Nina Exner, Virginia Commonwealth University, 509 N. 12th St., Box 980582, Richmond, VA, 23298-0582, USA; nexner@vcu.edu

Rights and Permissions

Copyright © 2021 Exner, Carrillo, and Leif. This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License