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Statement on Language in Archival Description

Statement on Language in Archival Description

Princeton University Library aims to describe archival materials in a manner that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the collections we manage. However, for a variety of reasons, users may encounter offensive or harmful language, for example, language that is racist, sexist, or homophobic, in our finding aids. While some descriptions in our finding aids are written by staff, others reflect language that was used by the people and organizations that created the material (folder titles are a common example; it is standard practice not to change them when present). When we encounter problematic language that we believe an archivist created, we update it. Language that comes from the original archival material can provide information about the people who created it. In such cases, the work of the archivist is to provide additional context.

Staff are currently implementing practices to address offensive or harmful language as part of routine description work. In addition, we encourage users to provide feedback to help us tackle this issue. We recognize that terminology evolves over time and that efforts to create respectful and inclusive description must be ongoing.

Please contact us if you encounter problematic description by notifying reading room staff or clicking the “Report Harmful Language or Content” button from any page on our finding aids site. Staff will review the description and update it in a way that balances the preservation of original context with an awareness of the effect of language on our users. Revisions may include providing additional context and/or replacing problematic terminology. We welcome your feedback.

Additional Resources

Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia Anti-Racist Description Working Group. “Anti-Racist Description Resources.” Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia. October 2019. 

Michelle Caswell, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 87, no. 3, July 2017. 

Society of American Archivists. “Statement of Principles” Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). 

Temple University Libraries. “SCRC Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description and Cataloging