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Michigan State University

Harmful Language in Library Resource Descriptions

History and context to accompany MSU Libraries' Statement of Harmful Language in the Catalog.

On Our Radar: Potential Upcoming Projects

This section lists and describes some examples of potential projects that the HLRWG would be interested in working on our contributing to. If you are interested in collaborating with the committee on any of these the projects listed below—or have ideas of your own for projects to focus on—please feel free to reach out to us

  • Genocide denialism in subject analysis
  • Cookbook reclassification
  • Examination of HQ classifications and subject headings on sex, marriage, and sexuality
  • Replacing language of "foreign," "third world," and "alien" with more inclusive terminology
  • Relabeling of queer-related items and collections in SPC

Current Projects

Name authority records from under-represented groups

The MSU Libraries is committed to collecting materials representing underrepresented groups across the world. In the effort to catalog this material, attention is paid by cataloging staff to identify and add context to this material to better provide and enhance access. Names of persons and organizations are added by cataloging staff to the Library of Congress Name Authority File. For our collections of focus, we attempt to better document people and organizations to ensure their legacies are preserved. Examples include LGBTQ+ artists, African activist organizations, and others??

Adding local Chicano and Latinos headings to Special Collections - 2013-ongoing

In 2013, the cataloging department began cataloging posters from the Chicano/a and Latino/a posters collection. The Library of Congress subject headings for Chicanos and Latinos are “Mexican Americans” and “Hispanic Americans” respectively. For this project, cataloging staff included the LCSH terms in the bibliographic records, but also added local subject headings for “Chicanos” and “Latinos.”

Completed Projects

Illegal Aliens project - completed April 2019

The LCSH term “Illegal aliens” gained notoriety in 2016 when the House of Representatives prohibited the Library of Congress from changing the term. In the aftermath, many libraries opted to change the term in their local catalogs (1). MSU Libraries joined this community and created a task force to recommend local handling of the term ‘illegal aliens.’ The task force’s final recommendation was to abide by the original plan at the Library of Congress and update catalog records that include the term “illegal aliens” to “noncitizens.” 

For more information, see the article in MSU Libraries’ Insight Spring 2021 issue.

Community cataloging project - Fall 2019

In a joint effort, the MSU Libraries cataloging unit and African Studies Librarian worked with the Lansing Refugee Development Center to identify language speakers in the community who would be interested in working as on-call employees at MSU. In October of 2019, 7 community members came to campus and partnered with 8 catalogers from the CMS unit, sitting down to transliterate and provide subject access to 43 titles in Arabic, Amharic, Hausa, Wolof, and Swahili. These materials are not widely available and strengthen the cultural record in a traditionally underrepresented area.

This project was recognized in our 2020 Library Staff Awards.

(1)  For more information, view the Wikipedia article or the Report of the SAC Working Group on Alternatives to LCSH "Illegal aliens."

Content warning for historical materials

The University Archives and Historical Collections (UAHC) developed the content warning “Language and content in resource descriptions and collections may be biased, harmful, and oppressive due to the historical nature of the content.” The statement was added to the UAHC website, lib guides, On the Banks of the Red Cedar, and other locations. Additionally, the Repository Team is adding the content warning to collections in the Digital Repository, e.g. the Civil War collections