Statement on Harmful Content in Archival Description


At the Woodson Research Center, we are committed to using inclusive, anti-racist, non-derogatory language when developing finding aids and catalog records. However, we acknowledge that some of our description may still contain language that is euphemistic, racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist or that demeans the humanity of the people described. We acknowledge that we are often describing communities of which we are not a part, and many of these communities are historically marginalized and underrepresented in the archives. 

We recognize our responsibility to describe our collections and their creators respectfully and carefully. Description is not neutral; individuals and institutions all bring their own biases to the process. We also recognize that we may sometimes fail and are committed to a process of constant reflection and improvement. What constitutes appropriate description varies with context over time and is affected by the descriptive standards we apply.

You may encounter offensive language that we have retained deliberately for historical accuracy or to document the issues and social context of a specific time and the attitudes and opinions of the people who created the material. Some situations where this might occur are:

  • Organization names that include outdated terms (for example: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Houston Council for Retarded Children)
  • An individual identifying themselves by a term that is no longer favored by people within that group 
  • Title or language quoted from a published book, article, film, or song
  • Description created by the donor or transcribed information directly from the documents themselves

We also use national standards like Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST to enable standardized searching and access across our holdings, and some of these headings are outdated and/or offensive. We are working to review and replace or supplement these terms where possible; it is a work in progress, and we welcome your feedback.

Feedback Form

If you encounter harmful or offensive language in finding aids, catalog records, descriptive metadata for digitized items, or other content, or if you have questions about this statement and our work, please contact us via our Harmful Content Feedback Form or email




Acknowledgements: This statement was adapted from similar statements by Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Drexel University Libraries, and The Huntington Library.