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Harmful Language Policy

In keeping with the Pratt Institute’s aim “to be a campus that welcomes and encourages individuals of all backgrounds,” the Pratt Institute Libraries seeks to address records in the library catalog that are historically inaccurate, offensive, discriminatory, or otherwise harmful. The Pratt Institute Libraries follow the standard practice of using controlled standard vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) which are similar to hashtags and keywords, making it possible for users to retrieve more precise results. Using controlled vocabularies and subject headings helps organize information and enhances cross-platform searching and information retrieval within the Libraries’ catalog, discovery layer, and databases. While this uniformity allows users to capture a concept and find similar information more efficiently by creating linkages between records, this efficiency may come at a cost when some of the problematic language found in the catalog stems from using such controlled standard vocabularies.

For this reason the Pratt Institute Libraries are taking the following steps to address offensive language and content in its catalogs and databases:

  • Systematically revise and update collection descriptions.
  • Update author records in existing records with a “dead name” (the birth name of a transgender person who has changed their name as part of their gender transition.)
  • The Pratt Institute Libraries supports initiatives to remove bias and promote inclusion in the catalog by replacing outdated and/or harmful LCSH subject headings with more equitable local term options. Petitioning the Library of Congress’ Policy and Standards Division is a bureaucratic process that takes time, but we are actively participating in the process and advocating for change.

The Pratt Institute Libraries encourage its users to participate in this process. If you encounter any pejorative language (i.e. racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic) or content in the Libraries’ catalog records, finding aids, or digitized collections, please fill out our Report a Problem Form. To report problems with specific items, click on the Report a Problem link at the bottom of all item pages on the libraries’ catalog or on the left sidebar of items in our discovery layer. Be sure to select ‘information on this page is inaccurate, offensive, or uses harmful language’ in the dropdown menu on the form.

Resources Consulted in Drafting this Statement

Sample Statements: The Cataloging Lab is a resource for catalogers to explore and discuss how to create more inclusive and equitable controlled vocabularies. They have compiled statements from many institutions on harmful or offensive language in description and bias in cataloging.

Shared Readings, Resources, and Considerations

Drafted by members of the Libraries' DEI Task Force
Last Updated: May 18, 2022

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