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UMD Libraries addresses harmful language in catalog records

New Harmful Language Statement seeks to contextualize, remediate harm

Harmful language statements are being created in academic libraries and archival spaces across the country to help contextualize why harmful language, such as racial slurs, exists in library catalogs. This fall, as you browse through our collections or search Worldcat, you may notice a link to the Libraries’ new harmful language statement

“If someone using the library catalog sees harmful words in a resource’s title or other information, they may not feel welcome in the library or they may think that library employees support the beliefs written in that harmful resource,” says Andrea Schuba, the Monographs Cataloging Librarian who led the group of library employees in creating the statement. 

As a librarian, Schuba has cataloged books and other materials that contain racial slurs and other harmful language in their titles and has felt a need to explain why the library collection contained these items.

The new statement makes two points with the aim of remediating harm and contextualizing harmful language. The statement also provides a mechanism to provide feedback on descriptions that library cataloging employees may be able to change. Often, these are words found in summaries of materials.

The statement also explains why harmful language isn’t censored when it is directly transcribed from a source. The exact language lends important context to researchers by allowing them to understand the views of the original creators. Often, this also provides context for historical events and outcomes that still affect entire populations today. 

Read the Libraries' full harmful language statement

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