Acknowledgment of Harmful Content

The Biodiversity Heritage Library acknowledges the existence of harmful content in many biodiversity science publications and original materials included in its collection. We are reckoning with the, at times, painful heritage of our collection and seeking to address its impact on science and culture today. As a curated digital collection aggregating content from hundreds of providers into a single platform, BHL is a reflection of the historical collection development decisions of those providers as well as the publishing practices and historical colonial processes that have shaped the scholarly record of biodiversity science. Scientific understanding evolves over time, through critical analysis of new information and scrutiny of its mistakes. We recognize that as a free and open access digital library, we simultaneously increase and promote access to materials, some of which espouse deep prejudices that are counterproductive to the advancement of scientific knowledge and overshadow the contributions of marginalized peoples across the globe. At best these views are outdated; at worst, the legacy of natural sciences is unjust and inhumane. The harmful content in BHL’s collection goes against the values of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. It is provided for access as part of the historical record.

Adopted September 2021

Collection Management

If you are interested in bringing this to our attention, please use our feedback form.

BHL can review examples of harmful content to improve our understanding of BHL’s collection and support research on the origins, extent, and impact of harmful biases in the natural sciences. BHL is committed to rethinking the development and curation of its collection of natural science materials. Where we have the opportunity to add or connect our collection materials to diverse, inclusive perspectives and voices, we will.

BHL will continue to support use of the collection, including research into biases and errors represented in the corpus, as well as lack of representation and knowledge loss resulting from historical biases and actions. As a cooperative global consortium library program, we hold a variety of personal and professional perspectives on our mission to, “improve research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.” BHL has decided not to identify or flag harmful language or images available in its collection. Removing or obscuring harmful content fragments the historical record and hides evidence of injustice critical to addressing harmful biases that are still held today.


  1. UNESCO. (n.d.). Five Laws of MIL | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from
  2. United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2021, from
  3. Institutions (IFLA), I. F. of L. A. and. (2021). Objectionable Third-Party Content: Library Responses.

BHL’s goal is to maintain access to the published record of biodiversity science. We uphold the value that more access to information, even if it contains harmful content, is critical to understanding the historical context in which knowledge has been created. Access to historical documents and records helps researchers gain a more complete understanding of scientific knowledge, including its moral and ethical impacts, and how they have changed over time. Therefore, BHL will not remove materials with harmful content from its collection. For other reasons, materials may be removed from the collection in accordance with our Take Down Guidelines as well as our Deaccession Policy.

Removing access to harmful content does not necessarily reduce harm. By exposing the perpetrators of harmful ideas, the BHL collection documents evidence of the biases and prejudices that perpetuate to this day as barriers to equitable knowledge creation and dissemination.

BHL encourages users of its collection to critically evaluate content and use it responsibly. The following resource evaluation methods can help researchers identify accurate data, information gaps, and biases, as well as the historical context within which the scholarly record was created: 



Online lessons

BHL collection management revolves around our strategic planning goal #1:

Grow BHL into the most comprehensive, reliable, reputable repository of data-rich biodiversity literature, and other original materials, to support a response to global challenges.

Please visit BHL collection management to learn more. Our collection development policy underwent significant revision as of November 2022.