Statement on Harmful Language in McLaughlin Library’s Catalogue (Omni)

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McLaughlin Library acknowledges the presence of problematic language within the bibliographic descriptions in our discovery platform, Omni. These include offensive terms, outdated descriptions, cultural references, and stereotypes. The library holds a broad range of items in our shared collections. For consistency and access purposes we use controlled vocabularies and standards (e.g. Library of Congress Subject Headings, Library of Congress Name Authority Cooperative Program) to organize and describe these materials, which may contain insensitive, or inappropriate language that reflects the norms and biases of the time in which the items and/or descriptions were created. Inclusion of such content is not an endorsement of these ideologies or an attempt to further perpetuate their influence.

We acknowledge that the national and international cataloguing standards we employ to describe and categorize materials often lag behind in embracing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) principles. These standards fail to align with our institution's commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. 

As part of our dedication to aligning our practices with the University of Guelph’s Indigenous Initiatives Strategy, our Anti-Racism Action Plan, and the EDI and Indigenization goals identified in the university’s strategic plan, we are actively working to evolve our records and procedures.

We recognize the importance of preserving historical materials in their original context, including the use of historical terminologies. However, we understand the need to balance this with contemporary perspectives and the evolving needs and expectations of our users.

Our objective is not to eradicate harmful or offensive terms from our catalogue outright. Instead, we aim to intervene by updating metadata to be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive. Our goal is to offer inclusive terms that serve as access points for research, acknowledging diverse perspectives and experiences.

Through these efforts, we strive to create a catalogue that reflects our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion while respecting historical contexts and facilitating research discovery.

To ensure that our catalogue reflects respectful and inclusive language, we are taking the following actions:

  1. Actively engaging in discussions and initiatives with provincial and national partners aimed at decolonizing our descriptive practices, such as Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) and its Decolonizing Descriptions working group and the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA) to support and promote inclusive metadata description.
  2. Staying abreast of local initiatives addressing problematic language, such as those led by the  Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and Library and Archives Canada.
  3. Working towards updating our cataloguing policies and procedures to ensure unbiased and respectful bibliographic description in our records, guided by the Cataloguing Code of Ethics.
  4. Where possible, implementing the use of relevant vocabularies of inclusive and respectful terminology in our cataloguing practices, such as the updated Canadian Subject Headings Related to Indigenous Peoples, CRKN Indigenous Subject Headings, and more.

Maintaining updated and accurate description of materials is an ongoing process. We encourage feedback from all members of our campus community to help us learn and adjust our practices accordingly.

If you have comments on our approach, we invite you to contact us.

This acknowledgement draws on the work of many others, including Western University, uOttawa,Tufts Digital Collections and Archives statement on harmful language in description, and the Duke University Statement on Inclusive Description. 

The library is committed to ensuring that members of our user community with disabilities have equal access to our services and resources and that their dignity and independence is always respected. If you encounter a barrier and/or need an alternate format, please fill out our Library Print and Multimedia Alternate-Format Request Form. Contact us if you’d like to provide feedback: