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Harmful and Offensive Items in Our Collections: Home

Statement on Harmful and Offensive Items in Our Collections

The over 300,000 items in the Grace Doherty Library's collections were chosen by librarians, faculty, and staff to support the 27 major programs, 35 minor programs, research goals, and overall success of Centre College's community. Because of the wide variety of materials that we own, you may encounter items in our collections that include offensive language, content, or subject matter. 

Why do we have offensive items in our collections?

The Grace Doherty Library is committed to providing our users with the resources they need to succeed in their courses, research, and lives. In order to maintain the broadest and most useful collection for all our users' needs, we collect items from a wide spectrum of authors, languages, disciplines, and time periods, many of which we have held for significant portions of Centre's century-plus history. Because of this, we hold items in our collections whose content could be seen as offensive, harmful, or misrepresentative. The team at the Grace Doherty Library is dedicated to creating a safe and equitable space for our diverse community of users. As part of this mission, we acknowledge that some items in our collection feature language, subject matter, views, or other material that would be deemed as offensive, and aim to provide information on what we are doing to ensure these items are used responsibly. 

Why not remove offensive materials?

We understand the strong emotions that can arise from encountering library materials that showcase beliefs or language that denigrate or misrepresent people of color, members of the LBGTQ+ community, women, those with disabilities, or other marginalized communities. While we understand the impulse to remove these items from our collections, we have chosen to retain some of them. 

We have made this decision for several reasons. In the spirit of Centre's liberal arts mission, we want to encourage our users to engage with complex, difficult topics in a critical and responsible manner. Many of the items we hold that include harmful language were written in a time and place where the language used and beliefs held by the authors were commonplace and not considered offensive. While we do not condone or agree with the views expressed in these works, we have chosen to keep them on our shelves to remind users of the realities of history and to bring into focus how far we have come.

Additionally, these works may have scholarly merit to researchers and students by providing historical context for scholars studying the time periods when these works were written, historical misrepresentations of the communities discussed in those works, or the ways in which libraries and other institutions have been complicit in the marginalization of various groups. We are able to learn from the mistakes of our past just as much as our successes, and preserving access to these works allows our community to remember our full history, including the parts that we may be inclined to forget.

What are we doing with our offensive materials?

We strive to maintain access to all areas of our collections, including items that could be considered offensive. With that being said, we aim to give our users the context and information they need to engage with these complex resources responsibly. We are doing this in a variety of ways, including updating bibliographic records with context notes and up-to-date subject headings, adding content warning notes in our online catalog, and including contextualizing inserts in the books themselves for any users who may encounter them on the shelves.

Many of the offensive items that we own were created and acquired by the library decades or even centuries ago. While we are working to contextualize all our potentially harmful items, there may be some we have missed. If you encounter an item in our catalog that you think could be potentially harmful or that could use additional context, please contact our Cataloging & Metadata Librarian at

We Welcome Your Feedback

Have you encountered a library item that you think could be offensive or harmful? Do you have questions or concerns about our work with diversity, library collections, and cataloging? We encourage you to reach out to our Cataloging & Metadata Librarian at Our collections exist to serve you, so we welcome your feedback and insights into this important work.


The work we are doing to address concerns of diversity and equity in our library collections, and the language used in this guide, was inspired by a number of institutions conducting similar efforts, including other academic libraries, Centre's Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), and the principles of the critical cataloging movement. For more information on the work we are doing and the other work happening around this topic, check out the links below.

Cataloging & Metadata Librarian