Statement on Potentially Offensive and Harmful Content

Where content on this site comes from
This site provides access to images, documents, and other materials that have been digitized by a statewide consortium of libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies from across Massachusetts. The purpose of creating and sharing these collections is to make them available to researchers, students, and the general public for the purposes of scholarship, education, and entertainment. These institutions hold a shared belief in the value of making these materials freely accessible, so that they may increase understanding of our society's cultural heritage and contribute to the public good.

Why historical materials may be harmful
Objects in historical collections reflect the attitudes, ideas, and norms of the era and culture in which they were created or collected. As such, some materials available on this site may contain potentially offensive imagery, language, or opinions, including disparaging portrayals or descriptions of persons based on characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or religion. Some materials may depict ceremonies, artifacts, or clothing from historically marginalized cultures in a disrespectful or exploitative fashion. Additionally, this site also contains some items with explicit imagery featuring sexual content or violence that may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Why potentially offensive content is available on this site
These materials are presented for the purpose of preserving the historical record. Their presence on this site does not constitute any endorsement of the viewpoints or sentiments expressed within them by Digital Commonwealth or its contributing institutions, which strive to provide an inclusive, welcoming, and respectful environment serving the information needs of all members of society.

How materials are described
In order to help viewers better understand the origins, context, and historical significance of the materials in our collections, contributing institutions provide descriptive information (metadata) to accompany all items such as titles, dates, author names, and notes on the item's history and origins. Whenever possible, best practices established by library and archival professional organizations are followed when creating these descriptions. Language from the original item is typically transcribed directly and without redaction, especially for titles. Standardized topical terms created by external sources (such as Library of Congress) are also used to provide better searching and browsing of the collections.

However, adherence to these practices may sometimes result in harmful or outdated language appearing in the descriptions for some materials, particularly in titles or topical headings. We strive to balance these practices with our goal of reducing the hurtful impact that these collections may have.

How potentially harmful materials are handled
Contributing institutions work to identify potentially offensive items as part of the digitization and description process. Items are identified using a set of criteria collaboratively developed and refined by Digital Commonwealth member institutions. If an item has been flagged as containing potentially harmful, offensive, or inappropriate content or language, a warning about the sensitive nature of the item may also be included with the item display to help visitors decide whether they want to view the item, or links to additional resources providing further context may be provided.

Community standards and practices
These policies are consistent with established professional guidelines such as Access to Digital Resources and Services from the American Library Association, the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians, and the SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics from the Society of American Archivists.

This statement draws on the work of other institutions who have created similar statements for their digital collections, including the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Libraries, Temple University Libraries, and the Digital Public Library of America's Black Women's Suffrage Digital Collection.

How to contact us
Further information on how materials are selected for inclusion in this site can be found in the Digital Commonwealth Collection Development Policy. If you encounter images, language, or other content you consider harmful, offensive, or inappropriate, or if you have questions or comments about the policies above, please contact us.