Today: Special Collections in Hornbake 10:00am - 4:00pm, by appointment only

Harmful Language in Finding Aids

If you encounter language in our finding aids that is harmful or offensive, we welcome your feedback, questions, or concerns. Please email us at askhornbake@umd.edu. A staff member will respond to your feedback and communicate any action we will take to update the language.


Finding aids contextualize archival collections and describe their arrangement and contents so that researchers can discover materials relevant to their needs. However, researchers may encounter harmful, offensive, or outdated language in our finding aids. This is in part because our finding aids were written over the course of many decades, and in the past, it has not been a priority to regularly review and update language. Additionally, sometimes we reused description that came directly from the materials’ original creators without altering the language. We recognize that librarianship is a predominantly white profession with a historical commitment to the impossible goal of describing material from a neutral point of view. This practice reinforces the marginalization of underrepresented communities by both upholding harmful naming conventions and failing to include descriptive information that would help identify materials about these communities in the future.

Recognizing the impact of language on both our researchers and those represented within our collections, Special Collections and University Archives staff are dedicated to identifying and reducing harmful language in our finding aids. We are taking the following steps:

  • Reviewing all finding aids to identify where we have used harmful language.
  • Updating language or, in cases where existing language is retained, adding contextual information to explain why.
  • Updating internal style guidelines to ensure that we develop and implement archival description practices that are anti-oppressive and consistent with how the subjects of our materials describe themselves.

Beyond these initial efforts to rectify harmful language, we commit to regularly reviewing our practices and finding aids to keep pace with ongoing changes in language and archival practices. Although we will strive to create inclusive, respectful, and accurate description, we will make mistakes along the way. We welcome your feedback via email at askhornbake@umd.edu.

A list of resources that we’ve consulted to inform this work is also available for anyone interested in learning more.