DPLA's statement on potentially harmful content.


Materials in this collection and the language that describes them may be harmful.

Libraries and archives collect materials from different cultures and time periods to preserve and make available the historical record. As a result, library materials, such as those presented here, may reflect racist and misogynoir views that may be harmful and difficult to view.

The content featured in this collection explores linkages between Black women’s suffrage and other social causes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (anti-slavery, anti-lynching, education reform and civil rights) as well as racism within the Suffrage Movement. These materials are presented here to recognize and celebrate the important contributions of Black women and their resiliency in the face of ongoing racism and exclusion.

Frequently asked questions

Where does this content come from?
Digital Public Library of America collects and makes freely available materials from thousands of libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations across the United States. Each institution or contributor shares materials with the DPLA according to its specific policies and objectives.
Why does this potentially harmful content exist?
The Black Women’s Suffrage Collection includes depictions and records of people experiencing trauma and harm. These materials are collected and preserved as part of the American historic record. Librarians and archivists must balance preservation of this history with sensitivity to how it is presented to users.
How is this material described, and why are some of the terms used in the descriptions harmful?
  • Librarians and archivists choose what language to use when describing materials. Some of these descriptions were written many years ago, using language that was accepted at the time.
  • Librarians and archivists often re-use language provided by creators or former owners of the material. This can provide important context, but can also reflect biases and prejudices.
  • Librarians and archivists often use a standardized set of terms, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, to describe materials. Some of these terms are outdated, offensive, or insensitive.
  • Communities with less access to and privilege within libraries and archives have had less control over how they are represented and described.
  • Librarians and archivists sometimes make mistakes or use poor judgement.
  • DPLA is committed to working with its partners to assess and update descriptions that are harmful.
How are librarians and archivists working to address this problem and help users better understand this content?
  • Working directly with misrepresented and underrepresented communities to improve the ways they are represented.
  • Informing users about the presence and origin of harmful content.
  • Revising descriptions and standardized sets of descriptive terms, such as Library of Congress Subject Headings, supplementing description with more respectful terms, or creating new standardized terms to describe materials.
  • Researching the problem, listening to users, experimenting with solutions, and sharing our findings with each other.
How can I report harmful content?
  • You can help us understand this issue and find solutions by reporting harmful content.
  • DPLA will forward your report to the institution(s) that are responsible for the content and make it available through DPLA. It is up to each individual institution to determine whether or not they will change or remove the content. Institutions weigh potential harm against considerations such as accurate preservation of the historical record, professional best practices, and allocation of scarce resources.
  • DPLA will use all reports of harmful content to better understand the issue and educate other librarians and archivists.

Curating the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection

The Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection draws from larger DPLA collection and includes machine generation and human oversight. As a result, some less relevant content may appear in the search. This collection is a work in progress, if you have any questions about scope and content please contact us at info@dp.la or visit the DPLA main site for more frequently asked questions.