Statement on Potentially Harmful Content
The Portal to Texas History provides access to millions of freely available digitized and born digital items that have been preserved by hundreds of libraries, archives, museums, cultural heritage organizations , and other institutions and private individuals across the State of Texas. These materials, consisting of both primary and secondary sources, originate from many cultures and time periods and bear witness to historical events of interest to both lay and professional researchers.
Due to this variety of sourcing, users should be aware that The Portal to Texas History contains content that they may find objectionable and/or emotionally disturbing. Some of the materials presented on this site contain images of nudity, are of, or related to violence, record graphic events and their aftermaths, or have depictions of individuals who may now be deceased. Written and other media may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent ideologies or contain words and opinions reflective of systemic intolerances such as classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious discrimination, or xenophobia as they manifested at various points in time.
Additionally, the Portal archives a constantly growing collection of government produced documents, research, data, news, and both majority and minority opinionated works from private and public entities on politics, religion, gender, and other topics which are debated in contemporary discourse. The contents of these materials may challenge some individuals’ belief systems, elicit shame and/or embarrassment, or be subject to prohibitions by members of certain communities.
Finally, the Portal provides access to thousands of hours of archival video content, and though rare, some footage may contain scenes with periods of strobing or flashing that may affect photosensitive viewers and may not be labeled.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where does this content come from?
The Portal to Texas History provides digital access to materials from hundreds of libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations across the State of Texas (hereafter contributors). These materials are in some way from, about, or otherwise relevant to researchers interested in Texas, its people, and/or its (broadly defined) history. Each contributor shares materials with the Portal according to its specific policies and objectives. The Portal to Texas History provides hosting services for its contributors with the goal of providing a unified, high-quality research experience for users.
While the Portal provides a systematic framework for describing content and promotes standards and best-practices, individuals volunteering or employed by contributors provide text-based descriptions of content. Additionally, the Portal relies on automated systems to extract searchable/readable text from documents and to provide transcripts and captions for some A/V materials. The accuracy of these tools is imperfect and can lead to errors when the original media is difficult to interpret.
What harmful or difficult content may be found in The Portal to Texas History?
Some items may:
- reflect colonialism, Eurocentricism, American expansionist/imperialist ideologies, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, and may 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, postmortem photography, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters, and more
- contain images, names, and voices of people who are now deceased
- represent a bias in, or demonstrate exclusionary practices resulting from institutional collection and digitization policies
- include publications or public-records containing information that may be embarrassing, unflattering, or that is disputed, biased, or subject to socio-cultural prohibitions
- in the case of limited video content, contain brief periods of strobing/flashing
Why does The Portal to Texas History make potentially harmful content available?
The Portal to Texas History and its partners collect, preserve, and present these materials as part of the historic record. These materials are uncensored and publicly available to support research and education. Librarians and archivists working in conjunction with the Portal 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?
- Librarians and archivists 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.
- Librarians and archivists 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.
- Librarians and archivists 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.
- Some communities have less access to libraries and archives, and accordingly have little or no voice in how materials are represented or described.
- Librarians and archivists sometimes make mistakes or use poor judgment.
How are librarians and archivists working to address this problem and help users better understand such content?
The Portal to Texas History is committed to working with its partners to assess and update descriptions that are harmful.
- 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 DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility). Examples of this work can be found in the UNT Libraries’ UNT Library Council for Diversity and Inclusion - https://library.unt.edu/lcdi/
How can I report harmful content?
- You can help us understand this issue and find solutions by reporting harmful content.
- The Portal to Texas History will forward your report to the partner(s) that are responsible for the content in making it available through the Portal. It is up to each institution to determine whether or not they will change the descriptions or remove the content. Partners weigh potential harm against considerations such as accurate preservation of the historical record, professional best practices, and allocation of scarce resources.
- The Portal to Texas History will use all reports of harmful content to better understand the issue and educate the community of librarians and archivists.
We welcome your feedback on this statement and encourage you to use or modify this statement. Please feel free to share your examples of use for updates and revisions to this document.