Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description: Special Collections and Rare Books

Statement on Harmful Language

SFU Special Collections & Rare Books aims to describe archival materials in an accurate and informative manner that is inclusive and respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the collections we steward. Some of the materials in our holdings contain offensive, derogatory or harmful language. Our archival descriptions also include language that is racist, sexist, or otherwise harmful to racialized and marginalized populations.

We acknowledge that description is not neutral, nor are the individuals who create it, and what constitutes appropriate description varies with context, time, and the positionality of the description creator.

We are committed to updating and revising our descriptive language and are actively working on:

  • identifying instances of racism, sexism, ableism and other forms of discrimination
  • proposing changes and replacing inappropriate language introduced during legacy descriptive practices
  • researching how communities describe themselves and using contemporary/current language respectful to the people and events reflected in our holdings

If you encounter language in finding aids, catalog records of archival holdings, digitized collections, exhibitions, etc., that you find problematic, offensive or harmful, or if you have questions or concerns, we welcome your feedback. Please email us at


This statement was adapted from those of Princeton University Library, Stanford Libraries, Temple University Libraries, UBC, and U Waterloo. It was created (last updated) on 2021-11-23.