Harmful Content Warning

Please be aware that materials held at Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) may include harmful or upsetting content. The library and archival materials at RBSC reflect the history of British Columbia, including its history of colonization, patriarchy, homophobia, heteronormativity, and racism.

Racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive or discriminatory images and language are present in the collection. Inclusion of these materials in RBSC holdings is not an endorsement of their contents. UBC Library rejects these offensive, discriminatory, and harmful viewpoints, while also understanding the importance of fostering access to our collections in a responsible and transparent way that preserves historical evidence of social conditions and attitudes.

RBSC also recognizes that in addition to materials in our collection being potentially harmful, harm can also be perpetuated by the ways in which we describe and provide access to materials. We attempt to balance preserving the original context of potentially harmful materials with using language that is respectful of the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented within these resources.

Description is not neutral. Neither are the individuals who create it, nor the institutional practices that inform it. While some parts of our descriptions are written by library employees, others are written by the record creators and/or authors (e.g., it is standard practice to transcribe and retain titles, as they are shown on the item). We actively weigh whether the preservation of potentially harmful terminology is worth the impact it may have on users. In cases where offensive or discriminatory language is retained, it is the work of archivists and librarians to provide context in the description. However, this work is subjective, and we don’t always get it right.

This is an ongoing process and we welcome feedback. If you see collection materials or descriptions containing problematic language or content that you think Rare Books and Special Collections should review, please contact us. We will review the materials and/or descriptions, collaborate on an appropriate solution, and communicate timelines for implementing changes.

Rare Books and Special Collections employees are also working to develop formal steps for review, assessment, and remediation of our archival descriptions to ensure that contemporary descriptions of all our materials better align with evolving anti-racism, decolonization, and equity practices.

RBSC Resources and Tools for Self-Care (downloadble PDF)


The creation, ongoing editing, and review of this statement and resource list is a collaborative effort. Contributors include: Gabriella Cigarroa, UBC Arts Co-Op Archives Assistant at Rare Books and Special Collections (Summer 2023), Claire Malek, RBSC Archivist, Chelsea Shriver, RBSC Librarian, and Krisztina Laszlo, RBSC Archivist. 

This statement was adapted from those listed below. It was created in June 2023 and last updated on August 31, 2023.

In writing this statement, we also consulted the following articles:

  • Payne, Krystal. “Archival Harm Reduction: A Theoretical Framework for Utilizing Harm-Reduction Concepts in Archival Practice.” Archivaria 94 (Fall/Winter 2022): 154–81.
  • Robichaud, Danielle. “Integrating Equity and Reconciliation  Work into Archival Descriptive Practice  at the University of Waterloo.” Archivaria 91 (Spring/Summer 2021): 74–103.
  • Wright, Kirsten, and Nicola Laurent. “Safety, Collaboration, and Empowerment: Trauma-Informed Archival Practice.” Archivaria 91 (Spring/Summer 2021): 38–73.