Statement on Problematic Language and Reparative Archival Description

Staff at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections strive to describe archival materials in a manner that is respectful of the people and communities represented in the collections under our care. Archival description, however, is created by many people, often reflects work completed over a lengthy period of time, and is necessarily influenced by the assumptions and preconceptions of archivists and organizations alike. Researchers thus may encounter offensive or harmful language in our finding aids, digital records, catalog records, blog posts, and online exhibitions.

We have recently begun a review of our finding aids to identify problematic language and improve description (including scope and content notes, subject headings, folder titles, and more). We have also implemented new descriptive standards to work against the use of racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and other offensive language, and to clearly flag and contextualize when such language was used by the people or organizations that created the records in the collections we manage.

As part of this effort, we invite users to notify us if they encounter problematic language in our finding aids or elsewhere on our site. You may provide feedback by form, email, chat, or phone (202-687-2814, Head of Archival Processing). After reviewing suggestions, we will do our best to improve descriptions by replacing terminology and/or providing additional context.

This important reparative work takes time. We strive to balance the need to preserve the original context of archival materials with the imperative to be inclusive, respectful, and responsive. We value your feedback and suggestions, and we appreciate your patience as we engage in this crucial work together.