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Inclusivity in Cataloging

Maryland State Archives Statement
on Inclusiveness in Cataloging Language

October 18, 2021


The Maryland State Archives recognizes that records we maintain may have been created or originally described in a time and context different from our own. Our past descriptive practices have not always fallen in line with our current values as a state agency, a professional organization, or an archive generally. We acknowledge that some of the outdated language still appearing in our catalogs may be offensive, hurtful, and historically inaccurate. In light of this, we reaffirm our commitment to practicing inclusiveness to all people in our descriptive practices, in our catalog, in our finding aids, and on our website. Please send your questions or comments using our Inclusivity Feedback Form. We appreciate our patrons assisting us in identifying where we need to give more attention and thoughtfulness to the language being used.


The nature of reparative work and the reality of the scope of MSA holdings means that we expect this effort to be ongoing and to evolve over time. Our hope is that, while we cannot change our legacy descriptions instantaneously, that a conscious effort over time will have the effect of broadening understanding and inclusivity at the Archives into the future. To begin to revise outdated and potentially offensive descriptors, MSA plans to take several approaches:

  1. We will actively update record descriptions and add historical context to our current catalogs and finding aids
  2. We will create keywords and subject headings, as well as data dictionaries, to translate outdated language to current language
  3. We will create targeted finding aids for underrepresented topics and user groups

Please note: Due to the complex nature of the work, the steps we are laying out do not yet have a firm planned completion date. We appreciate your patience and support as we engage in the ongoing work of reparative description.


Outdated language cannot simply be removed from our catalogs, finding aids, and websites. In some instances, the original creator or steward-provided description may hold inherent research and historic value. We typically refer to materials by the name given by the creator or steward.

Many resources use these terms because they were considered authoritative or appropriate at the time. By simply replacing the outdated name with a current name, we risk losing historical and administrative connections. It is our belief that by adding additional context and explanation, as well as new keywords and updated subject headings, we will be able to repair the use of outdated or harmful terminology, without erasing these past connections and provenance.

This statement draws on examples from the Yale University Library and the University of Virginia’s Library.

This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

© Copyright December 15, 2023 Maryland State Archives