Statement on Language in Archival Description

If you have questions or suggestions about outdated or harmful language in our collection descriptions, please contact us at:

We at the Bentley Historical Library are dedicated to describing archival materials in a manner that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the collections we manage. At the same time, our collections include language and content that may be harmful or difficult to encounter. Some collections reflect outdated, biased, offensive, or violent views and opinions. Our charge is to preserve, contextualize, and make these historical records available to the public, and does not represent any endorsement of the language, views or events within them.

Since the Bentley’s founding in 1935, our staff have created descriptions of the collections – for example, in catalog entries and finding aids. The language and structures used in these descriptions are not neutral and are often based on established systems and standards that uphold and perpetuate many forms of oppression and bias.

While some description is created by archivists, other descriptive language – including but not limited to original folder titles, publication titles, and formal names – is kept in place to reflect the creators’ views. Including the creators’ original folder titles in a finding aid, for example, is a common practice because it provides important context about the materials. 

Our work includes acknowledging multiple sources of expertise – for example, by working with community consultants to expand and improve collection descriptions. Staff are working to systematically review and update existing collection descriptions, and address harmful language in collection descriptions as they are encountered. As we acquire and describe new collections, we work to make collection descriptions inclusive from the start. This is an ongoing and iterative process. 

This statement was developed by the Bentley Historical Library’s Inclusive and Reparative Description Committee and is based on similar statements and efforts at the William L. Clements Library, Princeton University, and the University of Michigan Library.

Drafted: March 2024

Updated: April 2024