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Harmful Language Statement: About

Learn about USU Libraries' Harmful Language Statement, our work in improving our description, and how to notify us of resources that require attention.

Utah State University Libraries’ Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

USU Libraries believe supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility enhances library services for all. We believe in holding ourselves accountable for positive change, which requires vulnerability, continual learning, and the ongoing improvement of our services and policies.  

USU Libraries embraces the USU Aggies Think Care Act’s Principles of Community: diversity, human dignity, and social responsibility. In putting these principles into practice, we commit to actively developing and supporting a caring, respectful university culture. We encourage the work of other USU campus organizations such as the USU Inclusion Center in pursuit of these efforts as well. 

Please see the USU University Libraries’ full statement on DEIA Values and USU Aggies Think, Care, Act for more information. 

Sensitive or Harmful Content in Collections and Finding Aids

Libraries and archives collect and preserve materials from a broad spectrum of individuals, communities, cultures, and time periods. Some materials may be distressing or difficult to view for some users. This may include depictions of events that involve violence, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide, or other traumatic experiences. Other materials include language and imagery that is outdated, offensive, or otherwise harmful. Such content may reflect negative or derogatory attitudes toward race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation; embrace colonialist approaches; or otherwise exhibit bias toward members of marginalized groups. 

Some of these sensitive or harmful representations originate from the people and organizations that created these materials. Examples of this include story and song titles and/or content, people and place names, and the creators’ own descriptions and organization of items and collections. In such cases, the sensitive or harmful language and imagery has been retained in our collection records and finding aids to document the context in which the records were created. This approach preserves the historic record and allows contemporary researchers to learn about, assess, and question historical materials and attitudes.  

However, other sensitive or harmful language may appear in catalogs, databases, and other finding aids created by our librarians, archivists, and archival staff. We take responsibility for sensitive or harmful language found in our own descriptions, for the pain this language has caused, and for its role in furthering distress or harmful attitudes and ideas. We actively seek to address such language in our descriptions. In light of evolving definitions of what constitutes respectful and inclusive terminology, we acknowledge that this work will be iterative and ongoing.  

Submitting Feedback on Sensitive or Harmful Content

With millions of items in our collections, the process of addressing sensitive or harmful language and imagery will take time. New collection materials are assessed and addressed as we acquire them.  Existing materials are addressed as they come to our attention.  

We encourage our users to notify us of any sensitive or harmful material encountered in our collections. To do so, please complete this form. When submitted, the form will be sent to library staff who will assess the materials. If you choose to include your contact information with the form, we may contact you with additional questions. 

Possible outcomes from submitting a form may include: 

  • The material remains unchanged. 

  • The material remains unchanged, but language in the library-created description of the material is removed or changed. 

  • The material remains unchanged, but additional descriptive context is included to acknowledge sensitive or harmful content and assist with better understanding. 

  • The material is replaced with a redacted version. 

  • The material is deemed sensitive or harmful enough that it is removed from online access. However, USU Libraries places an extremely high value on providing access and context, and therefore this option may be considered only in exceptional circumstances. 

Once any changes are implemented, we will notify you if you have chosen to include your contact information. 

Additional Library and Archive Resources

For further resources concerning policies and ethics adopted by professional library and archives associations, please see:   

Many institutions are doing the important work of addressing bias and harmful content in collections and descriptions. A list of statements from various institutions has been created by the Cataloging Lab. The University of Maryland Libraries has compiled a list of additional resources on inclusive and conscious archival description

Specific resources that were helpful to the Utah State University Libraries in creating our own statement include: 

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Bring Harmful Language to our attention

We encourage our users to notify us of any sensitive or harmful material encountered in our collections. To do so, please complete this form. When submitted, the form will be sent to library staff who will assess the materials. If you choose to include your contact information with the form, we may contact you with additional questions.