Reviewed By: Chelsea Clark, Paige Dillard, Nicolas Hernandez
Link to article: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ijidi/article/view/32190
The article “Rethinking Representation: Indigenous Peoples and Contexts at the University of Alberta Libraries” discusses the University of Alberta Libraries’ (UAL) response to the mandate of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “protect Indigenous languages, provide appropriate curricula, and support Indigenous research” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 11). UAL responded to the mandate by establishing the Decolonizing Description Work Group (DDWG) which seeks to subvert the discriminatory language built into classification systems such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 14). The ultimate goal of the DDWG is to “create more inclusive metadata practices” and “maintain a collaborative and consultative” (Farnel et al., 2018, pp. 10-11) environment with local Indigenous communities.
The article first discusses how the group came to assess and address the mandate given by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be more inclusive of Indigenous communities. It then turns its attention to the literature review on changing metadata practices while engaging Indigenous communities. Finally, the article address the changes that might be made to the UAL’s Library of Congress Subject Headings, as well as the inherent difficulties in changing these descriptors when they integrate with a library’s Integrated Learning Management System. Ultimately, the article recommends starting with smaller collections, looking to the future for further research and answers. As this study was only completed last year, results on how implementation of DDWG recommendations has yet to be revealed.
What is interesting about the Canadian perspective is that it provides an international viewpoint while still retaining the issues inherent in a colonial experience similar to that of the United States. The current political climate in the United States has tacitly legitimized prejudice through a society where the dominant culture actively marginalizes minority groups. This article shows how these colonial relationships are still reinforced by discriminatory practices that are structurally built into our cataloging and classification systems. Tomren (2003), referenced in the Farnel et. al. piece, states that “equal access to library materials is hindered by bias in subject cataloging both in major classification schemes and major controlled subject vocabularies” (p. 2), and the effect of the discriminatory language used has marginalized Native Americans by showing a lack of “specificity within Native topics, fail[ing] to organize Native material in way that are conducive to retrieval, and at times use offensive or outdated terminology” (p. 3).
The core research questions addressed in the article include the DDWG’s assessment of how they might best “investigate, define, and propose a plan for how descriptive metadata practices could more accurately, appropriately, and respectfully represent Indigenous peoples and context” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 9). This article questions the best practices for creating and implementing a classification system across the UAL that is inclusive to Indigenous peoples.
The DDWG is comprised of UAL’s coordinator of Indigenous initiatives, metadata coordinator, cataloging coordinator, a public service librarian, an Indigenous intern of the MLIS department, and the associate university librarian responsible for bibliographic services. Together this group conducted its research through the exploration of existing relevant literature, an environmental scan, an analysis of the metadata from the LC’s Integrated Library System, and analysis of local digital collections on ways to possibly improve the current metadata. The research took more than 10 months to conduct, where, “the group consulted internally with staff in the areas of cataloging, public service, archives, and digital initiatives” and “a small group of students and alumni, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal” (Farnel, et al., 2018, p. 14) through the use of an informal online survey. Conversations concerning custom vocabularies were held with colleagues from the University of British Columbia and from the Manitoba Archival Information Network (MAIN) LCSH Working Group. Informal conversations with colleagues of the Library & Archives Canada and the Ryerson and Memorial University of Newfoundland lead to the discovery of further desires in changing, revising, and collaborating initiatives within Canada.
Findings and Conclusions
Survey results indicate that all but one participant felt “they would be directly affected by changes to the LC subject headings, and they indicated that they felt changing the LC subject headings was important for decolonization and building reconciliation within UAL” (Farnel et al, 2018, p. 14). Through external conversations with colleagues, the DDWG discovered interest across Canada “in working collaboratively with communities and other organizations and institutions to revise the Canadian Subject Headings (CSH)” (Farnel, et al., 2018, p. 15). Overall, these findings demonstrate that the DDWG needs to move forward with the completion of the project, and that the most successful way to do so will be through collaboration with communities during the classification revision process.
The authors also completed a local data analysis, looking at records within the integrated library system (ILS) as well as metadata applied to the institutional collections. Utilizing the MAIN’s LCSH list, the DDWG identified “62,459 records with terms matching those on MAIN’s ‘delete or replace’ list” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 16-17) within the UAL’s ILS. Within the UAL’s institutional collections, the DDWG determines that “[m]etadata for these collections are normally created in-house, and we have flexible tools and workflows around these metadata processes” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 17). More complex description revision issues arise from the institutional repository and the multimedia repository, as “the metadata often come from a variety of sources and conform to different standards” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 17).
The DDWG recommends the following broad actions be takes by UAL;
Collaboration with other groups and institutions across Canada
Partner with indigenous communities to revise subject headings
To support recommendation #2, appoint one person to take on collaboration and outreach
Once the first three recommendations are near completion, begin retroactive revision to UAL resources
Work with Internet Archive and HathiTrust to revise subject heading from UAL records held in their repositories
(Farnel et al., 2018, p. 18-19)
Implementation of the DDWG program will begin with hosting a symposium where they plan to host an open discussion with other Canadian institutions. They also plan to collaborate with colleagues as well as indigenous communities in order to insure understanding of both preferred terminology and how previous/current terminology has created barriers to access. Ultimately, the DDWG determined that “[r]evising [their] descriptive practices to more accurately, appropriately, and respectfully represent Indigenous peoples and contexts will remove many of the barriers that Indigenous communities and individuals have faced in working with established library standards and systems to find and access materials relevant to their cultures and histories” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 20).
What American Libraries Can Learn
Though this study was conducted in Canada, there is much that American libraries can learn from the findings. The most notable takeaways are about collaboration with Indigenous communities. Partnering with these communities throughout the many stages and steps of a project or initiative is crucial to that project’s success. The recommendations put forth by the DDWG would be a logical place for American Libraries to start with their own classification revision process. This is an important task for American libraries to undertake, because when creating metadata and cataloging, it is of the utmost importance “to understand which terminology is preferred, but also how the use of incorrect terminology has created barriers” (Farnel et al., 2018, p. 20) and that emphasis needs to be placed on working towards a goal of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness in all aspects of the library, for this will enhance relationships with those communities the library wishes to serve.
Farnel, S. et al. (2018). Rethinking representation: Indigenous peoples and contexts at the University of Alberta Libraries. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 2(3). ISSN 2574-3430, publish.lib.umd.edu/IJIDI/
Tomren, H. (2003). Classification, bias, and American Indian materials. Unpublished paper.
The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 2(3), 2018 ISSN 2574-3430, publish.lib.umd.edu/IJIDI/ Retrieved from http://ailasacc.pbworks.com/f/BiasClassification2004.pdf