Statement on Harmful Language in the Library Catalog, University Archives, and McHugh Family Special Collections


The Weinberg Memorial Library (WML) is committed to creating inclusive, anti-racist, non-derogatory bibliographic and archival descriptions for our collections that accurately describe our holdings. In describing and making these bibliographic materials accessible, catalogers and archives staff at the WML are guided by the ALA Cataloging Code of Ethics and the SAA Code of Ethics for Archivists.

However, we acknowledge that bibliographic description, as well as the description of rare and archival materials, are not neutral. The Library Catalog, University Archives, and McHugh Special Collections reflect a combination of current and past practices. What was considered an appropriate description has varied with context over time, is affected by the applied descriptive standards, and by the positionality of the description creator. We acknowledge the value of historic terminologies but also acknowledge that some of our bibliographic and archival descriptions may be biased or contain racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise derogatory and offensive language. In most cases, this language will be present in older bibliographic and archival records created in years and decades past. 

The following list identifies where and why our library users may encounter harmful language:

  • When cataloging and describing printed materials, WML staff retains the language of the original item where required by descriptive standards. For example, original language is transcribed exactly as it is on the source material in the title and publication fields.
  • WML staff have transcribed notes or information directly from the materials themselves. In fields containing notes, direct transcription is often indicated with the use of quotation marks and/or identification of the source.
  • To standardize searching across our catalog, archives, and special collections, the Weinberg Memorial Library uses the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM), Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) controlled vocabularies, as well as Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). We are aware that some terms in these vocabularies and guidelines are outdated and/or harmful. We support efforts underway within library and archives communities to update and change these terms.

We acknowledge that we often describe communities of which we are not a part and recognize our responsibility to describe our resources and their creators respectfully and carefully. We also recognize that identities are both socially constructed and fluid and the ways in which individuals and groups self-identify changes over time.

WML is dedicated to finding ways to mitigate the use of harmful and offensive language in bibliographic descriptions in our catalog, archives, and special collections. We are pursuing actions to remediate these issues, including reviewing and correcting existing records. This process is complex and ongoing as part of our record enhancement projects, but we are committed to this effort. 

We welcome your feedback. If you encounter language in the WML Collections that you find harmful or offensive, or if you have questions about this statement or about our work, please email


This statement was based on statements and policies from the following institutions:

Emory Libraries Harmful Language in the Library Catalog

The Huntington Library’s Statement on Harmful Content in the Collection and its Description

Stanford Special Collections and University Archives Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Cataloging and Archival Description

Temple University Library’s SCRC Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description and Cataloging

Tufts’ DCA Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description

Tufts’ Tisch Library statement on potentially harmful language in our catalog

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