Harmful Language in Finding Aids

If you discover harmful or offensive language in finding aids, catalog records, descriptive metadata for digitized items, or other content created by Rose Library archivists and librarians, please contact rose.library@emory.edu. We welcome your feedback. 

At the Rose Library, we are committed to using inclusive, anti-racist, non-derogatory language when writing finding aids and catalog records. However, we acknowledge that some of our description contains language that is euphemistic, racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist or that demeans the humanity of the people we describe. We are dedicated to correcting those records as we find them, and we ask you to contact us if you have encountered harmful language in any of our finding aids, catalog records, or publications. 

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. We also recognize that we may sometimes fail and are committed to a process of constant reflection and improvement. 

As part of that commitment we are embarking upon a project to review and revise our current descriptive policies to include guidelines for writing explicitly anti-oppressive description that is consistent with how the subjects of our collections describe themselves. New guidelines will include rules for describing gender identity, chosen names, ethnic, religious, and other identity categories. We are also reviewing our finding aids and catalog records to identify places where we have used racist, homophobic, ableist, outdated, or otherwise harmful language and will replace it with new language according to the guidelines we are writing. Our remediation efforts will focus on removing anti-Black and racist language; rectifying the erasure of people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and women; and removing euphemistic language describing enslavement and colonization. This is an ongoing project and you may encounter harmful language in a finding aid or catalog record that has not been reviewed. We invite you to report that language to us at rose.library@emory.edu. 

You may also encounter offensive language that we have deliberately included because that language tells us something important about bias and prejudice in the collection. It is important for us to acknowledge the racism and bigotry present in our collections, even as we acknowledge that encountering racist or derogatory language can be difficult and painful.  

Other examples of when we may decide to use or retain harmful or offensive language in our description include: 

  • Terms considered derogatory by some have been reclaimed by others, and the creator of the collection uses such a term to self-identify 
  • Terms regularly used by a community to describe themselves historically have fallen out of use or out of favor 
  • The terms in use provide important contextual information that will help users better access the collection or understand the conditions under which it was created 
  • We have reused description created by the donor or transcribed information directly from the documents themselves  
  • We use national standards like Library of Congress Subject Headings to enable standardized searching and access across our holdings, and some of these headings are outdated and offensive 

All finding aids created by Rose Library archivists since 2018 should include processing notes that give some indication of whether or not archivists have reused description provided by a donor or have provided the language themselves. When deciding how to describe our collections and the subjects they document, archivists rely upon professional standards and codes of ethics; conversations with donors; research into the individuals, communities and topics represented in the collection; and policies in the Collection Services Manual. If you have questions or concerns about a particular finding aid, please contact us. 

If you discover harmful or offensive language in finding aids, catalog records, descriptive metadata for digitized items, or other content created by Rose Library archivists and librarians, please contact rose.library@emory.edu. We welcome your feedback.