Tag Archives: indigenous peoples

Transformative Praxis – Building Spaces for Indigenous Self-determination in Libraries and Archives

Reviewed By: Myla Perrelli, Jennifer Robertson, Josephine Trott, & Jessica Walker

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/transformative-praxis/

Synopsis
This article looks at the ways in which libraries and archives in Australia can decolonize and indiginize simultaneously in order to provide cultural safety to their communities. The author Kirsten Thorpe believes that much importance lies in the praxis, or combination of reflection and action within the context of theory and practice, as it relates to the work that needs to be done with regards to Indigenous peoples. A stronger and more direct dialogue is needed on the subject of Indigenous people and decolonization within the library community in addition to more direct action. The importance of cultural interface, or the different awareness and knowledge that people have on a subject, is discussed. The article thoroughly delves into important areas where work needs to be done in institutions and research with the goal to provide solutions. These areas include utilizing Indigenous research methodologies, working locally with Indigenous peoples, and resourcing the decolonization and indigenization with time and money. Additionally, the author is an Indigenous archivist from Australia who has 20+ years of experience working in the field. Her family on her mother’s side are Worimi people from a coastal region of Australia.

Core Research Questions
For this article, the core questions are explicitly written in the text. They are:
“ How can libraries and archives engage with indigenous peoples and communities to build mutual partnerships within current frameworks?” (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 3)
Can libraries and archives build spaces with respect to indigenous people, or will they continue to ignore their role of “perpetuating colonial system and structures”? (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 3)

Historically, the organization of information in Australian libraries and archives have continually ignored input or voice from the Indigenous peoples and communities. The author stresses throughout the article that ignoring the Indigenous people’s perspectives, will continue to harm the community and possibly traumatize the multiple generations with colonial centric histories. Practices cannot merely change overnight without community partnerships and engagement. The author questions how we can create mutual partnerships, given the current organization in current libraries and archives.

In the past, there has been an effort in creating library and archive spaces for Indigenous communities; however, “many projects and services were being designed without Indigenous community input or perspective” (Thorpe, 2019, p.1 para. 9). Problematically, Indigenous peoples were asked to approve of new projects only after they have been designed and created. These finished projects had little to no input or collaboration from the communities in which they were for. If Australian libraries and archives want to build and design spaces with respect to the Indigenous communities that exist in Australia, the author argues that there needs to be an effort to collaborate with Indigenous people and decolonize the classification, description, and organization of the existing system.

Methods
Thorpe uses a qualitative examination of personal experiences, or autoethnography, according to the guidelines laid out by Houston (2007) to consider the core questions. The data for this self-study is acquired through Indigenous Standpoint Theory (IST) and evaluated using Cultural Interface as detailed by Nakata (2007). Standpoint theory is an individual’s ability to understand how their perspectives have been shaped by the dominant, usually conflicting, culture. IST specifically looks at how the dominant culture has erased, misrepresented, and suppressed ancestral cultures and languages to perpetuate assimilation. This provides context for identifying the instances of suppression that arise in the everyday life of Indigenous people. These instances are also the root of much distrust with the institutions in question. Cultural interface uses the intersection of Indigenous people’s ancestral identity and colonizer culture to witness systematic conflicts. Using the cultural interface, instances identified with IST can be evaluated based on how much personal harm and trauma is inflicted. Thorpe (2019) considers both the “experiential and intellectual” impact of these instances (Thorpe, p.1, para. 5). This qualitative information is used to inform ways they can be used in praxis to decolonize libraries and archives. In doing so, the oppressive power systems can be eliminated to create supportive spaces and systems for Indigenous people.

Findings
The main finding of the study is that in order to make archives and libraries more supportive of indigenous populations, various goals must be achieved. The first of which is that “indigenous research methodologies” must be utilized (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para 20). For example, the Kaupapa Maori Theory provides great framework for challenging the “dominant systems of power”, or in other words, the library and archival structures that oppress indigenous populations (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 6). The next component is to use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to guide library and archive practices. Another idea is to consult leaders in the indigenous community for their advice, work with them to prioritize goals and adopt protocols that are applicable to these groups. Additionally, collaborative members could create plans that will put these protocols into action. Librarians and archivists need to respect indigenous groups’ values and build a relationship of mutual benefit. It is also important to increase representation of indigenous peoples in leadership positions such as on library boards. Leaders need to understand that the process of creating a supportive environment requires changes that must be made to work, with time and resource division. Lastly, advocate for studies of indigenous populations as a core component of curriculum in library and archive courses.

What can American libraries learn from this?
American Libraries can learn from the international perspectives that the populations the library is looking to serve should be leaders for developing services. Key groups in the community must be consulted and power structures of the library must be examined. Libraries need to be willing to look at the underlying structural components of their organizations that may marginalize groups in their community and be willing to change them.

White librarians in particular have a lot of work to do. Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities should not have to bring this work forth alone. It needs to be an effort that takes into account the trauma and emotional/cultural safety of the community that the librarian works and resides within.

Librarians and archivists also need to understand that there are different cultural practices and beliefs between multiple Indigenous communities. If they want to design spaces for them, then collaboration needs to happen before, during, and after the process. Librarians must recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all in creating these information spaces, so the process will need to be revisited several times, with each distinctive Indigenous group.

Essentially, Americans libraries were designed in a colonized system which has been shown to be oppositional and harmful to Native Peoples. This article draws attention to the ways in which American libraries may be similarly hostile to Indigenous Americans. To consider the actionable ways to decolonize the system, as laid out in the article, provides a starting point for local research and understanding of the methods for measuring and collecting community input.

References

Houston, J. (2007). Indigenous autoethnography: Formulating our knowledge, our way. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36(S1), 45-50.

Nakata, M. (2007). Disciplining the savages: Savaging the disciplines. Canberra, A.C.T.: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Thorpe, K (2019). Transformative praxis: Building spaces for Indigenous self-determination in libraries and archives. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/transformative-praxis/

The Intersection Between Cultural Competence and Whiteness in Libraries

Reviewed By: Shelley Carr, Kristina Cevallos, Karen Chacon, & Rachel Dunn

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/culturalcompetence/

Article Synopsis

In her article, “The Intersection Between Cultural Competence and Whiteness in Libraries,” Fiona Blackburn (2015) examines her experiences working in Australian libraries and the implementation of cross-cultural provisions as evidence of privilege and the predominance of “white culture” in libraries in Australia. While this article provides examples of services designed for culturally diverse communities, Blackburn focuses on evaluations of her experiences as a white librarian in Australia in regards to personal understanding and development of cultural competence, especially the influence of white privilege, whiteness, and “white culture.” The article acknowledges the predominance of white workers in the LIS field as well as the dominating bias toward Western ways of assessing, accessing, and organizing information. Though considering her personal experiences at multiple information organizations, Blackburn asserts the importance of cultural competence, which is defined by Overall (as cited in Blackburn, 2015, para. 17) as:
the ability to recognise the significance of culture in one’s own life and in the lives of others; to come to know and respect diverse cultural backgrounds and characteristics through interaction with individuals from diverse linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic groups; and to fully integrate the culture of diverse groups into service work, and institutions in order to enhance the lives of both those being serviced by the library profession and those engaged in service.

With this definition of cultural competence in mind, Blackburn examines this topic from the perspective of an Australian librarian, and also refers to supporting literature from U.S. LIS professionals who support the practices of cultural competence. In commenting on the importance of cultural competence in library and information organizations, Blackburn encourages a global awareness of whiteness and privilege in the LIS profession.

Core Research Questions & Methodology

As Blackburn describes her journey through librarianship in Australia and her growth and interest in cultural competence, whiteness, and intersectional librarianship, she seeks to answer a few questions. What is cultural competence in the context of librarianship? What is the connection between intersectionality and cultural competence in addressing whiteness in the library? And, how can librarians and library workers approach cultural competence in a primarily white workforce within a predominantly white industry with awareness of power and privilege? Blackburn explains her reasoning by way of her personal experiences as a librarian in Alice Springs, and elsewhere in Australia, and referencing existing scholarship on cultural competence, intersectionality, and diversity in libraries.

Blackburn uses her own experience as a “56-year-old, tertiary-educated, female Anglo-Australian librarian” (Blackburn, 2015) to seek answers to her questions regarding cultural competence, intersectionality, and whiteness in libraries. She notes that working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been her main source of learning about cultural competence and addressing whiteness in the library, but cultural competence goes far beyond just working with Indigenous peoples. Her awareness of her own culture (her whiteness) is her starting point on the journey to becoming culturally competent. Blackburn links together her personal reflections, professional experiences, research, and conversations with librarians as a method to form her conclusions.

Findings and Conclusions

Blackburn’s experience in Australia showed her that there were only a handful of librarians and libraries providing services specifically for Aboriginal people. For this reason, Blackburn focused on building greater engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Blackburn’s goal was for people to see their culture reflected in the library in order to build stronger connections between patrons and their library. This would require more of Blackburn’s colleagues to step in and help create that culture of support, inclusion, and engagement in all nine branches of the library system in which Blackburn worked. From her own experiences, Blackburn found that members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be actively incorporated in their libraries’ programs and services in order to support library staff working together to create a culture of inclusion in that library. Once patrons are aware that library services and staff are focused on meeting their needs, patrons may attend engagement activities and library programs more frequently. Blackburn mentioned how some library staff resisted these new ideas due to not having enough time to connect with members of the community and not wanting to add any extra tasks to their workload. Blackburn asserts that once those new connections are built, library staff can focus on maintaining the relationship as the library patrons continue to come to the library.

As support for her arguments, Blackburn introduces the concept of intersectional librarianship which, “recognises the interactions between any person or group’s multiple layers of identity and the marginalisation or privilege attendant on each” (Blackburn, 2015, para. 30). Library staff members need to learn to become allies and active participants in change, which cannot be accomplished in a one-day training session. LIS professionals need to recognize their own biases and privilege before they can become allies to any group. Librarians must focus on understanding the challenges patrons may be facing and what necessary steps are required to mitigate these challenges.

Applications in the United States

The United States could stand to learn from Blackburn’s experiences with the Aboriginal populations in Australia and how the library spaces she worked in were able to support and include the voices and experiences of their patrons. By creating spaces where the patrons could see themselves reflected, connect with their culture, and inhabit a neutral space, they were able to foster engagement with the Aboriginal community and increase usage by that group. The United States could stand to improve inclusion and respectful interaction with Native Americans and other underserved populations by creating inclusive reflective spaces and deeply considering how whiteness comes into play within libraries.

White librarians in the United States could benefit from examining their own “whiteness” and white privilege in the context of the LIS profession after reading Blackburn’s article. Through this awareness and understanding, librarians in the United States can build upon their cultural competence and expand on the inclusion of diversity within their library services. Blackburn’s focus on building engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and her work with Libraries ACT lend some insightful findings that would benefit any library. However, the conversations Blackburn notes in her article give interesting perspectives on how libraries are seen as “white places” and are not as culturally inclusive as they could be. These conversations heighten awareness of cultural differences and what should be taken into account when designing services for diverse populations.

For example, often librarians are busy promoting their own services/programming and forget to work in collaboration with their colleagues for the overall success of that library. In addition, library staff should be mindful of cultural inclusion when designing services for groups that are underserved and seek to include those groups across all library programs and services. In some cases, librarians promote Black History Month or LGBTQ only for one month and forget to incorporate the concept for the rest of the year. In order for patrons to feel a sense of belonging to their library, this should be highlighted throughout the year, and included in collection development decisions and program planning.

U.S. libraries could observe the global practices of international information organizations and draw from their experiences in order to better design services for diverse populations. In her article, Blackburn references examples from U.S. LIS literature which support the inclusion of cultural competence in navigating interactions with diverse populations. Not all libraries in the United States practice cultural competence within their community, with whiteness being privileged in library and information spaces, making it especially important that LIS professionals in the country work to better serve the diverse populations of their community and nation. Based on Blackburn’s examples, U.S. libraries could potentially promote similar services to Native Americans, although regional differences would require more contextual adaptation. By practicing cultural competency by way of awareness of whiteness and privilege in ourselves and our libraries, libraries in the United States can better serve their culturally diverse communities beyond the basics.

References

Blackburn, F. (2015). The Intersection between cultural competence and whiteness in libraries. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, December. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/culturalcompetence/

Overall, P. M. (2009). Cultural competence: a conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. The Library, 79( 2), 175-204.