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Statement on Harmful Language in New York State Archives Description Resources

The New York State Archives’ aims to describe the historic government records in our holdings in an accurate and respectful manner for all who use and are represented in the collections we safeguard and make accessible, especially those featuring Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups. Still, researchers may occasionally come across offensive language or access terms in State Archives finding aids, catalog records and other descriptive resources that are racist, xenophobic, homophobic and ableist in nature.

Some of that language, found in the name of an agency or organization, title of a published work, etc., is preserved because changing or removing the content would alter the historical record or one’s understanding of it. However, when writing finding aid abstracts and item level metadata, we occasionally re-use language found within the records to describe the material, some of which is harmful and problematic, when it is not needed or without providing context. There are also descriptive resources, created several years ago, that contain antiquated language now viewed as demeaning.

The New York State Archives is in the process of conducting a thorough review of all online and print descriptive content to identify and replace inappropriate language. Once the reparative process has been completed, we will conduct periodic audits of our content to ensure the language we use is up to date and respectful. In instances where it is decided certain language should be retained, we will provide additional details so that users are better able to distinguish between creator-based information and archivist supplied description.

Moving forward, we will also seek to utilize terminology the communities reflected in the records being described use themselves. Though we recognized no one community shares the same viewpoint, seeking feedback from various BIPOC leaders and organizations will help us make more informed decisions about the terms we use.

Comments and questions concerning this statement and language found within our descriptive resources can be directed to


January 2021