Curating Diverse Voices: Challenges in Diversity of Representation and Description in the Panama Canal Museum Collection at the University of Florida


  • Elizabeth Bemis University of Florida
  • John Nemmers University of Florida


The Panama Canal Museum Collection at the University of Florida is a large, hybrid library-archives-museum (LAM) collection that lacks diversity in both its representation and description despite the fact that the collection spans most of the 20th Century and covers a wide variety of international subjects. The collection has very few materials that document the perspectives and stories of Panamanians, people of West Indian descent, indigenous people, and others who were not U.S. citizens. Similarly, the descriptive terminology used in the collection is sometimes not inclusive, appropriate, or respectful to these underrepresented or marginalized groups. This lack of diversity in representation and description not only limits discovery and access but also limits the ability of archivists, librarians, and museum professionals to interpret and educate in exhibits and instruction. The authors provide examples of challenges and the various steps they are taking to strive for diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the collection, including changing collecting practices, engaging and collaborating with various communities, and improving descriptive practices.