Harmful Language Statement

Harmful language statement

The Black Film Center & Archive (BFCA) is committed to upholding the description of archival materials and special collections in a respectful and accurate manner while maintaining the historical context of the collections we manage. However, the materials we describe are not neutral. Users may encounter offensive, harmful, or otherwise outdated language in archival materials and special collections. The BFCA collects and makes freely available materials from numerous collections. Language and its cultural context are always changing, and so are our methods of description.

While most of our finding aids and special collections are created by staff, some reflect language that the people and organizations who created the material used. It is standard practice to maintain the description used by the creator/donor of archival materials. Language used in the original historical materials can tell us a lot about the materials. With that said, we are committed to updating language that is in our control to edit. Please email bfca@indiana.edu to report offensive material and/or descriptio found in archival or special collections.

*The BFCA’s Harmful Language Statement is adapted from and in line with the Indiana University Libraries Harmful Language Statement.

Frequently asked questions

The BFCA is home to many archival collections. These materials include print, manuscripts, auditory, audiovisual, and born-digital collections. Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist, and otherwise discriminatory attitudes can be found in some historical records, including transcripts.

Visual, auditory, and audiovisual material may include harmful language, violence or otherwise disturbing content.

Sometimes we retain archival materials that contain harmful language or content because they have significant historical value. Contact the archivist for more information about our collection policies and practices.

We use controlled vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), to enhance discoverability while searching our collections. Name authorities are a powerful tool to link similar content and limit variations of single terms. However, words change faster than name authorities are updated. The BFCA does not have direct control over the language used in these naming authorities. However, we support efforts made to update them. We also actively participate in and pursue controlled vocabularies created by the communities that are being described.

Additionally, some BFCA collections were processed decades ago. We recognize that it is important to revisit collections that require updated description. With many collections, this is a gradual process. We welcome you to help us review collections by reporting any instance of harmful language to us at bfca@indiana.edu.

  • Collaborating with community partners to research how communities describe themselves.
  • Supporting efforts to update controlled vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  • Prioritizing revision of potentially harmful descriptions.
  • Continuing our own education on issues of bias and de-centering whiteness in metadata practices.

You can help us address this issue by emailing us at bfca@indiana.edu

Once submitted, we will assess if actions must be taken according to our collection policy. Reporting an item does not guarantee that it will be taken down or edited. If you provide an e-mail address in your report, an archivist may follow up about actions taken.

While there are no current national archival standards for remediating harmful language, our policies and practices are informed by the following literature:

Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia Anti-Racist Description Working Group. “Anti-Racist Description Resources.” Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia. October 2019.

Cataloging Ethics Steering Committee. "Cataloguing Code of Ethics." January 2021

DPLA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.” Digital Public Library of America.

Michelle Caswell, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 87, no. 3, July 2017.

Society of American Archivists. “Statement of Principles” Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS).

SCRC Statement on Potentially Harmful Language in Archival Description and Cataloging.” Temple University Libraries, June 26, 2019.