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Harmful Language Statement

Why Is This Content Present?

Library and archives workers make decisions about what language is used to describe collection materials in catalogs, finding aids, digital collections, and exhibits. This work is not a neutral activity (Hughes-Watkins, L., 2018). The choices we make are shaped by explicit or implicit bias, and the language chosen can be harmful: discriminatory towards or excluding diverse views on race, sexuality, gender, ability, religion, colonialism, immigration, and more. In practice, library and archives workers often retain the language that creators or former owners used to describe their materials. This description can provide important context and can also reflect the biases and prejudices of content creators, and will usually be accompanied with an explanatory note.

The standard process of organizing and describing library and archival resources uses terminology that currently includes harmful language. (See Changing the Subject at USF for one example.) Gleeson and Zief libraries, like thousands of libraries across the U.S., use standard subject headings issued by the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress system started from and continues to perpetuate a white supremacist, imperialist, straight, cis-gendered male viewpoint as the default. (Berman, 1993.) Changes to Library of Congress Subject Headings go through an extensive review and approval process, and yet some updated headings continue to contain harmful language.

The libraries subscribe to many products and resources from outside vendors, who have their own processes for updating vocabularies and standards.

Harmful content also appears in the text of books, articles, and historical records. This content reflects the attitudes of authors at the time and can aid in the understanding of history. The libraries strive to provide a wide variety of viewpoints to support rigorous discussion and research while being accountable for how these materials affect our patrons. Our guidelines are set forth in Gleeson's Collection Development Policy, Gleeson's Collection Development Diversity Statement, and Zief's Collection and Access Policies.

Approved September 8, 2022; published September 27, 2022

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