Problematic Language in the Library Catalogue

Statement of Acknowledgement

Western Libraries and the Affiliated University College Libraries hold a broad range of items in our shared collections. Part of organizing and describing these materials includes the use of standardized metadata that reflect the biases and norms of the time in which the items and/or descriptions were created. These metadata can include offensive wording, cultural references, and stereotypes.

To ensure these attitudes and viewpoints are not erased from the historical record, and to preserve and accurately present historical materials, we acknowledge the value of historic terminologies in tandem with today's user discovery needs.

We also recognize that the national and international cataloguing standards we use to categorize these materials uphold the library’s place as a colonial institution that contributes to ongoing oppression and white supremacy.

While we work within the parameters of these standards, we pledge to make metadata more inclusive by:

  1. Engaging in ongoing discussions dedicated to examining our legacy cataloguing practices.
  2. Participating in larger initiatives of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) to decolonize descriptive practices across all partner institutions, including Western Libraries and its Affiliates.
  3. Reviewing all feedback we receive, marking reported records as containing offensive descriptions.

Maintaining updated and accurate description of materials is an ongoing process and we may not always make the right decisions. We encourage feedback from all members of the Western & Affiliate Libraries community, so that we can learn and adjust our practices.

If you encounter language that you find discriminatory in our research guides, catalogue records, digitized collections, exhibitions or elsewhere, or if you have questions about our metadata work, we welcome your feedback. Please email or complete this form.

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

Examination of Legacy Cataloguing Practices

Western & Affiliate Libraries are engaged in ongoing discussions dedicated to examining our legacy cataloguing practices. This work began in 2018 with an inventory and assessment of the metadata we hold for materials related to Indigenous Peoples. Through self-reflection and engagement in larger initiatives to decolonize description we are working to update our cataloguing practices.

Participation in Larger Initiatives

On January 31, 2023, the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA) announced it had secured seed funding needed to get the Respectful Terminologies Project off the ground. Along with many of our CRKN (Canadian Research Knowledge Network) partners, Western Libraries has financially contributed to supporting this important work.

Since 2021, members of Western Libraries Discovery, Description, and Metadata team have been actively involved in inclusive description initiatives at the provincial consortia level through participation on working groups of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL).

Remediations to Classification

Remediation of N and O Cutters

Libraries often encounter harmful language when assigning a book's call number. Call numbers indicate the topic of a book and its place on the shelf. This practice is part of the Library of Congress classification system followed by many academic and research libraries in Canada, including Western Libraries. The issue arises when part of the call number reflects offensive or derogatory language, which can perpetuate harmful stereotypes or marginalize certain groups. This part of the call number is called a “cutter”. We have modified the N and O cutters used to describe racial categories for Black, East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian Peoples.

Remediation of Offensive/Outdated Subject Headings

Alternative Subject Headings for Indigenous Peoples

Research is continuing around best practices for improving access to resources by and about Indigenous Peoples. These updates provide more inclusive and accurate language for search and retrieval of library materials about North American Indigenous populations. To date, Western & Affiliate Libraries has implemented the following changes in their subject headings by replacing "Indians of North America" with "Indigenous Peoples--North America." and replacing "Eskimos" with "Inuit." The goal is to reflect a more respectful and culturally sensitive approach to describing these materials within the library system.

Details of the Actions Towards More Inclusive Metadata