Tag Archives: Library and Information Science

Towards Indigenous Librarianship: Indian Perspective

Reviewed By: Jeannette Moore, Lorena Romero, Claudia Posadas, Stephanie Hiett, Kathrynn Solis, Elizabeth Ramirez Segura,

Link to article: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/2868/


This article examines the importance of indigenous knowledge and librarianship. Information professionals have a responsibility to gather and make information accessible to the rural poor in India. The first libraries in India were for emperors, major capitalists and scholars (Hangshing, 2019). However, after India’s independence from the British, the first public library was established. The Delhi Public library opened in 1951. (Hangshing, 2019). It was the hope that the Delhi Public Library could provide “…modern technologies to Indian conditions and to serve as a model public library for Asia” (Hangshing, 2019, p. 9). By 1954, there were about 32,000 libraries in India which housed about 7.1 million books (Hangshing, 2019). Not only did the libraries offer an incredible collection of materials, but they had made significant progress in creating “…networks at local, regional and national levels to deploy information and communication technologies and to build electronic information sources” (Hangshing, 2019, p. 12).

However, with all this progress, there still were not indigenous libraries or access to that knowledge. Indigenous curriculum is hard to find in professional programs in India and most native knowledge is oral, not written, making it difficult to gather this specific type of information (Hangshing, 2019). Hangshing writes about the necessity for information professionals to go beyond the norm to “…incorporate the needs of indigenous culture and intellectual sovereignty” (Hangshing, 2019, p. 13). For example, hiring diverse staff that represents the clientele is one way to create library environments that recognize native people (Hangshing, 2019).

International Perspective

This article represents an international perspective with research done by Hangshing (2019), Wani (2008), Banerjee (1996), and Bhatt (1995), among others. Additional information in this article was provided by the Indian Library Association, the International Indigenous Librarians Forum, the University Grant Commision of Britain, and the Galiwin’ku Indigenous Knowledge Centre. Finally, the author compared the establishment and function of the public libraries in India with libraries in South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, and Canada.

Core Research Question(s)

This article begins with the question, “Who are the indigenous people?” Though this answer varies from country to country, in India, it is particularly important since there is not one specific group that is recognized as such. Another core research question is, “How does India, with an incredibly established preservation system, maintain and disseminate cultural information of indigenous people when in fact they do not widely acknowledge specific autochthonous groups?”

The article also brings to light the lack of preservation of relevant cultural information in India, especially for the indigenous communities there. However, one of the core responsibilities libraries have is collecting, preserving, and disseminating indigenous knowledge, as well as imparting the value, contribution, and importance of indigenous people and culture to all groups, indigenous or otherwise (Hangshing 2019, p. 3). The article then asks the question, “How do libraries successfully transmit cultural information to the next generation(s) and how can libraries continue to serve the indigenous communities’ interests first and foremost?”


Jose R. Martinez Cobo (1986) is credited in this piece with having one of the most widely cited definitions of indigenous peoples:
Indigenous communities, people and nations are those which, having historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system (Hangshing, p.3).

Hangshing acknowledges the categorizing of such peoples by the Indian government. While the United Nations estimates that there are more than 370 million indigenous people worldwide, India does not consider a specific section of that population as ‘indigenous people’ but the whole country and all its people as indigenous (Hangshing, p.8). The article describes India’s administrative category of “Scheduled Tribes” (STs) pointing out how the category is used to administer constitutional privileges, protect, and benefit specific sections of people “…historically considered disadvantaged and backward” (Hangshing, p.8).

The article draws on the examples of the State Library of Queensland, in Australia, which established and implemented Indigenous Knowledge Centers, and the USA National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) which examined library services on American Indian reservations. Though indigenous tribes have not been defined by the Indian government, Scheduled Tribe (ST) status is identified on the basis of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness (Hangshing, p.8).
The article describes librarianship in India as going back to the sixth century A.D.. Hangshing examines India’s first university libraries at the Universities of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, after the colonization by the British. However, he marks the establishment of the Delhi Public Library as specifically significant to the country’s establishment of accessible librarianship and effective public library legislation development (Hangshing, p.10). In addition, the Madras Public Library Act of 1948, was the first library legislation in India that sparked the enactment of Public Libraries Acts throughout the country of India. This legislation raised library services standards, established professional development opportunities for librarians, and provided for better service conditions for librarians in India.
Hangshing also examines the efforts of people in rural areas of India which have contributed to the protection and preservation of traditional histories and languages, specifically the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). Furthermore, staffing India’s libraries with diverse staff that represent the community, ensures diversity and equitable access to information for all of the scheduled tribes in India, including the rural areas that traditionally share knowledge verbally.

Findings and Conclusions

India has the largest population of indigenous persons on the planet. The author explains that the Indian government does not recognize indigenous tribes, but rather refers to them as “Scheduled Tribes.” The term “traditional knowledge” then becomes very relevant in India’s libraries with the need to “protect the ancient and traditional knowledge of the country from exploitation through biopiracy and unethical patents” (Hangshing, p. 13).
Hangshing provides extensive research on the history of libraries in India, which is a significant component in understanding the lack of current resources for indigenous cultures. The author claims that the lack of “focus on libraries relevant for rendering explicit services for the indigenous local communities’ remains neglected. There is little indigenous curriculum content within the professional programme” (Hangshing, p. 13). Most libraries in India include indigenous collections of songs, dances, and ways of living of various tribes. These collections, however, exist without “consent of the original stakeholders and consequently leads to misconception and misrepresentation” (Hangshing, p. 12).
Hangshing concludes the article by calling on Indian librarians and professionals to step out of their comfort zones and focus on the communities that need their services the most. The author demands Indian librarians disregard jurisdictional barriers and protect a community that is not being taken care of by their government. As public professionals, Hangshing declares, librarians hold the duty of extending knowledge and information to all local communities, and that does not omit indigeneous Indian populations.

What American Libraries can Learn

Librarians need to continue to create spaces that are hubs of communication, as well as be collectors and protectors of the cultures that are part of the communities they serve. From this article, American Libraries can learn that materials must be collected ethically. Additionally, it is important that what the library has, matches what the community wants, and reflects the community it is serving. Furthermore, American Libraries, like those in India and elsewhere, need to promote cultural awareness and identity within society. “Libraries can help in collecting, preserving, and disseminating indigenous knowledge and publicizing the value, contribution, and importance of indigenous culture to both non-indigenous and indigenous people” (Hangshing, p. 3). It is important that libraries use their influence to “raise awareness about indigenous knowledge, document indigenous knowledge, develop digital libraries based on indigenous knowledge, identify indigenous knowledge specialists, establish the value of indigenous knowledge, and build capacity to develop indigenous knowledge” (Hangshing, p. 4).

American libraries can further learn from the development of Knowledge Centers. This was done in Australia and it “raised the profile of indigenous people in libraries […] and increased indigenous employment and training opportunities” (Hangshing, p. 5). Another way to improve ways of serving indigenous people, is to include them in the programming and development of legislation related to the information services that are being planned for their own community. “Groups of indigenous people in countries around the world are developing their own library organizations for the purpose of sharing and supporting the development of libraries and library services that serve their particular interests” (Hangshing, p. 11).

Finally, American Libraries can learn that though there are challenges to incorporating the needs of indigenous cultures, even so, “professional[s need] to come out of their comfort zone and initiate new approach[es] to render services for indigenously developed knowledge” (Hangshing, p. 13). There are so many ways to better support this community of people so that they will have equitable access to resources, the development of culturally appropriate materials and services, and have the multilingual materials they need. American Libraries must make sure to break down the barriers so that they represent the patrons the library serves and in turn, those people can become leaders in their community and the LIS profession.


Banerjee, D. (1996). The Story of Libraries in India. Daedalus,125(4), 353-361. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20027402

Bhatt, R.K. (1995). History and Development of Libraries in India. New Delhi, Mittal Publications. (pp. 130-131).

Hangshing, J. (2019). “Towards Indigenous Librarianship: Indian Perspective”. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/2868

Wani, Z.A. (2008). Development of Public Libraries in India. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). (pp. 1-2) Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1168&context=libphilprac