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Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Penn Libraries Collections Discovery: Statement on Harmful Language in Penn Libraries Catalogs

Statement on Harmful Language in Penn Libraries Catalogs* 

At Penn Libraries we are committed to describing our cataloged resources using inclusive, anti-racist, and non-derogatory language. However, we are aware that racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist or other offensive language can still sometimes be found in our search indexes, bibliographic records, and finding aids. We are working towards mitigating any harm by updating this language. 


Harmful or offensive language may appear for the following reasons: 

  • Our collections stretch back centuries and many records have not been updated recently

  • Some derogatory terms used to describe oppressed people have been reclaimed and used by authors and creators from those communities

  • Preferred terms used by communities to describe themselves can change over time and  vary within and between communities

  • We transcribed information directly from materials which contain the offensive language (for example, the title of a book)

  • We retained offensive or harmful terms for historical accuracy or to document the issues and social context of a specific time and the attitudes of the people who created the material

  • We are using records that were created by commercial vendors and other agencies external to the Libraries

  • We use Library of Congress Subject Headings to enhance search and discovery of resources. Some of these headings continue to use outdated language because change requests have to go through an extensive review and approval process and decisions often conform to language preferred by the Congressional community.**


Penn Libraries’ staff understand that we often must describe communities that we are not members of ourselves, and that we have a responsibility to do this work with care and respect. We will revisit this statement as needed, recognizing that our understanding of the impact of our description decisions, and the effectiveness of our subsequent modifications, will and should continue to evolve.


If you discover harmful or offensive language in Penn Libraries catalogs or finding aids, please use this form to report it and suggest alternative language. Any questions or concerns regarding this statement can be directed to


*This statement has been adapted and expanded from that of Emory University Libraries, Rose Library, and others from this list of statements on bias in library and archives description

**For an example, see “Report of the SAC Working Group on Alternatives to LCSH ‘Illegal aliens’”

Sensitive Materials Statement

The Penn Libraries is committed to producing, preserving, and providing access to knowledge. We make materials accessible to improve information equity and enhance teaching, research, and learning. Some materials may be considered offensive and do not represent opinions, values, positions or norms that are held by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Where possible, we strive to present these materials within the historical or cultural context they were created by providing descriptive information.

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