Content Statements/ Warnings
In some cases, digital collections may require the use of a content statement or warning. A content statement is a message for a digital collection (on its website or within the collection's metadata), or a message for content within a digital collection, that alerts users about potential materials that may be deemed offensive or harmful.
Why Use a Content Statement?
- The goal of a content statement is not to deter users from collections, but to prepare them for offensive/ harmful content. This is especially true for younger audiences, students, educators, etc.
- Certain content might be taken out of context without proper warnings or cause harm to unsuspecting users.
- A content statement is a reflection of an institution and its values.
A post from the Miami University Libraries may sum it up best:
- As stewards of historic materials, cultural heritage institutions "have an obligation to preserve the past — even when the contents are sensitive or objectionable." However, "when graphically racist, sexual, violent, or culturally sensitive images can appear unexpectedly in search results, it’s important to give users a choice of whether or not to view them."
- It is best practice to flag offensive/ harmful content BEFORE it is made accessible to the public online.
- Review your organization's workflow and consider making adjustments to document offensive/ harmful content early on in the process.
- Generally, it is a preferred practice to favor language used by the communities and individuals represented in the collections. It is also preferred to use people-first language.
- For example, using "a person with diabetes" rather than "a diabetic."
- If possible, consult with the communities and individuals represented in the collections and invite them to be involved in the process. Ask them how they would describe the materials.
- As with other policies and procedures, periodically revisit and review your content statement, and make edits and updates as needed.
Writing a Content Statement
The first place to start is to review your collections. You likely know them better than anyone else. Make sure that you are aware of any potentially harmful or offensive content. Then, consider gather key stakeholders (admin, staff, educators, students, volunteers, community members, etc.) and invite them to help in crafting a content statement. Recollection Wisconsin has an excellent list of things to consider during the writing process:
- What content exists in the collections that might be considered harmful?
- What do you (as an organization or community) want users to know about this content? How much detail should you share up front? What historical context would be most useful for users?
- What content statement language would best represent your organization’s values and work?
- Talk about your organization and its responsibility to the collections, community and preserving the historical record.
- Likewise, talk about why a local history organization would curate and share digital materials with potential to cause trauma. Think about your mission to collect, share and preserve the historical record.
- Think about whether your content statement should exist at the institution, collection or item level.
- Be sure to include a mechanism (i.e. email address or web form) and instructions for how users might contact you about harmful content they encounter in your collections.
You do not need to reinvent the wheel when writing a content statement. Thankfully, there are many examples available online that can be reviewed and adapted to fit your organization's needs.
Feedback/ Takedown Requests
Before implementing and sharing your content statement (and preferably before the content in question is publically accessible), your organization should have a procedure or policy in place for addressing feedback or requests to remove content. Options would essentially include:
- Removing the material permanently
- Leaving the material unabridged (or "as is")
- Including additional descriptive information to provide context for the material
- Slightly editing the material to include things like "cover images" in front of distressing images, video, audio, etc.
If your organization decides to keep the material accessible and unabridged, you may want to consider updating your content statement or making it more visible.
You may want to consider incorporating this plan into your content statement, or you can adopt a policy for your digital collections relating to removing material. Consult the ND State Library's document below for an example.
Yearbooks are snapshots in time. They include the activities, mindsets, and social norms of that time. However, when viewed through a modern lens, these behaviors may seem old-fashioned or even harmful. Yearbooks, especially older volumes, may include text and/or images that depict prejudices, or content that is offensive and harmful. Consult the information presented on this page, as well as the Yearbooks page for additional information.
Additional Resources/ Further Reading