University Archives & Special Collections

Statement on Potentially Harmful Content

The Tennessee Tech University Archives & Special Collections houses over 3,300 cubic feet of manuscripts, records, and photographs, as well as digitized and born digital materials from Tennessee Tech and the surrounding people, communities, businesses, and organizations in the Upper Cumberland. The materials housed in the archives have an archival value; based on the information they contain and their formats, Tech Archives is justified in preserving the materials for future use. Some of the materials the archives houses may be harmful or difficult to view. The materials presented may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, in order to have a more complete historical record, Tech Archives may collect and preserve materials relating to violent or graphic events.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does this content come from?

Tennessee Tech University’s Archives and Special Collections acquires, preserves, and makes available resources with enduring historic value for our university and the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. Tech Archives connects the university, community, and researchers with these resources through exhibitions, outreach activities, classes, reference, cataloging, social media, and digital collections. Tech Archives seeks to create an inclusive archive that is representative of its community and the University. When determining the inclusion of materials to the collection, the archive prioritizes inclusion and representation in its decision-making process.

What harmful or difficult content may be found in Tech Archives?

Although this list is not exhaustive, some items may:

  • reflect white supremacist and American imperialist ideologies, which include racist, sexist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes.
  • be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, ableism, religion, and more.
  • include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, post-mortem photography, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more.
  • demonstrate bias and inherent bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.

Why does Tech Archives make potentially harmful content available?

Tech Archives collects, preserves, and presents materials as part of the historic record, which includes depictions and records of people experiencing trauma and harm. Tech Archives, working in conjunction with diverse communities, will seek to balance the preservation of this history with sensitivity to how these materials are presented to and perceived by users.

How is this material described, and why are some of the terms used in the descriptions harmful?

  • Archivists and archives 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.
  • Archivists and archives 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.
  • Archivists and archives 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.
  • Archivists and archives sometimes make mistakes or use poor judgment.
  • In the past, there were no universal standards or policies to help archivists and archives avoid harmful language.
  • Tech Archives is committed to working with users to assess and update descriptions that are harmful.

How is Tech Archives working to address this problem and help users better understand such content?

Examples include:

  • 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.
  • Evaluating existing collecting and digitization policies for exclusionary practices and institutional biases that prioritize one culture and/or group over another.
  • Making an institutional commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Examples of this work can be found in the DPLA Network Council’s Statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice (IDEAS).

How can I report harmful content?

We encourage our users to report harmful content that is not already labeled with a content warning by emailing Our staff will then review the material and create a content warning for future researchers.

This statement was created by the staff of Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections and was adapted from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)'s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.

This information was last updated on August 30, 2022.

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