Problematic Language in Description

While an item’s contents can be offensive or otherwise problematic, so too can the terminology used to describe and catalogue it. We acknowledge that the national and international cataloguing standards that we use to describe and categorize materials are slow to change, and do not reflect our commitment to Indigenization, equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and accessibility (I-EDIAA).  

The Library recently took its first concrete steps towards addressing harmful language in the catalogue by consulting with Indigenous faculty and staff in the Indigenous Teacher Education Program and then testing the loading of respectful subject headings for a sample set of books. The subject headings were supplied by the Library Services Centre (LSC), building on work of the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Understanding that insensitive cataloging practices have the potential to negatively impact both library users and the findability of library resources, libraries across Canada have been grappling with the creation and implementation of more sensitive subject headings related to Indigenous Peoples in particular. Queen’s University Library stays abreast of larger initiatives to address this problematic language undertaken by the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) and its Decolonizing Descriptions working group, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), Library and Archives Canada, among others. While we work within the parameters of these standards, we are actively working and learning to adjust our practices.

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