Approved, June 2022
Special Collections strives to share cultural heritage materials in a way that is respectful to all communities who use, create, and are represented in our holdings. However, some materials, digital object metadata, and archival description available in our Finding Aids, Digital Collections, Chattanooga History Collections Online, and UTC Scholar may reflect harmful beliefs or represent positions, language, values, and stereotypes that are not consistent with the current values and practices in Special Collections or with the Library’s values.
Users may encounter troubling content and descriptions of materials in our systems for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- Librarians and archivists actively collect materials with graphic content, which may be difficult to view, but are preserved for their cultural significance;
- Description and acquisition practices have been based on systems and standards ingrained with racism, colonialism, misogyny, and homophobia;
- Communities with less access to and representation within libraries and archives have less control over how they are represented and described;
- Librarians and archivists often re-use language provided by creators or former owners of the material. Language that comes from the original material may provide information about the people who created it, but may also reflect potentially harmful biases and prejudices;
- Librarians and archivists often use a standardized set of terms, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, to describe materials. Some of these terms are outdated, offensive, or insensitive;
- Many institutions have followed biased collecting and digitization policies that focused on the records and contributions of groups with privilege while excluding other groups and cultures.
We welcome your questions or comments related to our approach to describing and providing access to collections. Special Collections will review feedback and make every effort to address the issue by weighing potential harm against considerations such as accurate preservation of the historical record, professional best practices, and allocation of available resources.
This statement draws on wording found in similar published statements by institutions found in our list of resources below.
Antracoli, Alexis A., Annalise Berdini, Kelly Bolding, Faith Charlton, Amanda Ferrara, Valencia Johnson, and Katy Rawdon. “Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description Resources.” October 2020. https://archivesforblacklives.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/ardr_202010.pdf.
Digital Public Library of America. "Statement on Potentially Harmful Content."https://dp.la/about/harmful-language-statement.
Princeton University Libraries, Special Collections. “Statement on Language in Archival Description.” https://library.princeton.edu/special-collections/statement-language-archival-description.
Society of American Archivists. "SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics." https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics.
Society of American Archivists. "Statement of Principles." Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). https://www2.archivists.org/groups/technical-subcommittee-on-describing-archives-a-content-standard-dacs/describing-archives-a-content-standard-dacs-second-.
Temple University. "Special Collections Research Center Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description and Cataloging." https://library.temple.edu/policies/14.
University of Colorado Boulder. "Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description." https://www.colorado.edu/libraries/libraries/norlin-library/rare-and-distinctive-collections/collections/statement-potentially-harmful.
University of Virginia Library, "Statement on Harmful Language in Cataloging and Archival Description." https://www.library.virginia.edu/policies/statement-on-harmful-language.
Yale University Library, "Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description." https://guides.library.yale.edu/specialcollections/statementondescription.