Offensive content in our collections

Since the revelation of Governor Ralph Northam’s offensive yearbook photos a few weeks ago, many have taken time to dig into their own University’s historical yearbooks to see if they also contained offensive and racist imagery. Due to libraries’ efforts to provide free and publicly accessible digital versions of material online, it didn’t take researchers long to find these histories in their alma mater’s past.

Academic librarians are actively communicating with each other, seeking advice so that we foster access to these materials, and the offensive language and imagery, in responsible ways. Historical material can contain images and language that illustrates racist or hateful attitudes toward people of color, people identifying as LBGTQ, people with disabilities or people from other marginalized communities. These images and language are offensive, and sometimes traumatizing, especially for those who have experienced violence, acts of hate, or microagressions in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Here at the University of Maryland, our librarians believe in the importance of facilitating the dissemination of knowledge and information, providing a broad view of the University’s history. We seek to be transparent about our digitization choices and practices. Digitization has allowed increased access and discovery of our collections and our campus’ history.  It is not our wish to hide anything from our collections. We know offensive material is there, and we want these records to be to used for research. Our collections enable all of us to engage in more truthful conversations about this history.

We encourage you to use our online collections or to visit us in person to see material that is not yet available online.

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One thought on “Offensive content in our collections

  1. Pingback: Archivists on the News: “Hidden in Plain Sight”: Institutional Amnesia and the Archives – Issues & Advocacy

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