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Information for Readers

Statement on Harmful Content in the Collection and its Description

Description is not neutral; individuals and institutions all bring their own biases to the process. The Huntington aims to describe the collections we manage in a manner that is respectful to the individuals and groups who create, use, and are represented within them. What constitutes appropriate description varies with context over time and is affected by the descriptive standards we apply.

The following list contains some of the situations where and reasons why library users may encounter harmful language:

  • As a repository of cultural heritage materials, items within the collection may contain offensive language, imagery, or other objectionable content. We recognize that these materials are important resources for the study of contemporary and past cultures, and we take seriously our responsibilities in describing, preserving, and providing access to them.
  • When cataloging printed materials, Huntington staff retain the language of the original item where required by descriptive standards: original language is transcribed in the title and publication fields, elsewhere in a record this language is indicated with the use of quotation marks.
  • For archival materials, it is common practice to retain original language provided by creators, former owners, and vendors. When original language is retained in the description of archival materials, this is usually explained in the processing notes.
  • In areas with greater flexibility, Huntington staff make choices about what language to use when describing not just the materials, but the people and groups who created or are represented in them. We are dedicated to describing people and groups accurately, respectfully, and in a way that is not harmful or offensive. Since many of our catalog records and finding aids were created years or decades ago, instances of harmful descriptions may appear. We recognize the need for re-description, which is an ongoing process that will take time.
  • The Huntington 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 to standardize searching across our catalog and digital library. We are aware that some terms in these vocabularies are outdated and/or harmful, and we support the various efforts underway within library and archives communities to update and change these terms.

Feedback

Huntington staff work to balance efficient and timely cataloging, description, and preservation of original context with an awareness of the importance of language and its effect on our patrons and communities. We recognize that we may not always make the right decision and encourage feedback from all sources so that we can learn and adjust our practices.

If you encounter language in Huntington Library catalog records, digitized collections, and finding aids that you find harmful or offensive, or if you have questions about this statement or about our work, please fill out our feedback form.

Acknowledgements

This statement was adapted from similar statements by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Temple University Libraries, Stanford Libraries, and Princeton University Library.