Creating Space for Indigenous Materials with Brandon Castle
“It’s really nice to identify mentors and make connections in this field because I know how isolating it can feel sometimes. It’s helpful to have people that you know you can reach out to, whether it’s professors, advisors, friends you make in the program or professionals in the field who are already doing the type of work you want to do.”
Brandon Castle (he/they)
SJSU MLIS, Expected December 2023
Brandon Castle did not exactly envision a career in the Library and Information Science (LIS) field when he was younger.
“I wasn’t really considering a career in museums; I just saw the impact that they had on the community as a place of cultural heritage preservation. It wasn’t until I started working at the Totem Heritage Center in my hometown, Ketchikan, Alaska, that I became really interested in museums and in the field of anthropology.”
Eventually, that would lead them toward a museum studies degree at the University of Washington (UW).
“In that program, I was able to focus a little bit more on collections work and understand how Indigenous community histories overlap with museums.”
After finishing up at UW, Brandon saw an opportunity to get both a scholarship and an MLIS degree through the Bridging Knowledge program, a partnership through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and San José State University (SJSU) to help Indigenous scholars enter the LIS field.
“I noticed that this program was a partnership with SJSU and the Alaska State Library System, so I thought it would be a really great opportunity to get training in archives and libraries, which, thankfully, there is a lot of crossover with museums. There are a lot of the same concerns across these institutions and a lot of the same skills can be applied, whether it’s archiving materials, classification, or even collections management. So I just saw Bridging Knowledge as a way to get more well-rounded training and meet other folks in the field.”
With a cohort of about 15 students from different Indigenous backgrounds, Brandon is able to progress through the program with a community of like-minded scholars.
“We’re all in it to do a certificate in Digital Assets Management and there’s a supplemental curriculum component of the program where we get to go over more Indigenous-focused work and be a part of a mentoring program. One of the nice things about being in this cohort is that we, as a group, get to attend conferences like the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM), so it’s nice to see familiar faces from SJSU when I arrive.”
Balancing Classes and Work
Ever since Brandon started the program in January 2022, they have been working tirelessly on their projects at work and in class.
“A few of my cohort members and I took INFO 281: Seminar in Contemporary Issues: Indigenous Cultural Institutions and Practices of Librarianship with Dr. Ulia Gosart in the fall, which was really helpful in getting a comprehensive overview of laws pertaining to cultural heritage and Indigenous people. Not only has Dr. Gosart been helpful in situating the work that we’re doing with Bridging Knowledge and the work that I’m doing outside of SJSU, but she’s also just a very supportive person who’s geared towards self-advocacy for students.”
In his current job at Amherst College, Brandon is working with the Native American Literature Collection to reach out to communities in the Northeast and assess what their needs are in terms of accessing the collections.
“We’re doing some regional networking with other libraries in the area to try and approach this work as collaboratively as possible while also making changes to library practices in general. For example, addressing inaccurate terms or making an author’s tribal affiliation much clearer when classifying information. I think the main goal, though, is to have accurate, culturally appropriate metadata attached to all of that and because I’m not really familiar with library stuff, it’s been nice to work with different native students on campus who bring their own insight and perspectives to make the collection better. The other component is creating a digital atlas for the collections through an IMLS-funded project called “Digital Atlas of Native American Intellectual Traditions.”
When asked about what drew him to take up a job that was located in Massachusetts after living in Alaska and Washington, Brandon said that it was the institution’s commitment to community-based work. “In the time that I’ve been working here, Amherst College has been very committed to making changes. When I was working with databases for museums, I saw this gap in how Indigenous knowledge is integrated into our systems. For example, in libraries, you have the Library of Congress Subject Headings which are still problematic in the way that certain things are described. There are a lot of issues where materials are still placing Indigenous people in the past or describing historical events inaccurately. So it’s been interesting to be in this position where I get to really work on making changes in the library science field while also making materials more accessible for Indigenous communities.”
Advice for Students
Having been in the program for about a year, Brandon has some advice for students who are worried about starting a career in libraries.
“I came into this program with little-to-no library experience so I understand how overwhelming it can be. But there are so many resources and organizations out there that want to help you make connections in the field. As an Indigenous person and member of the Tsimshian Nation, organizations like the American Indian Library Association or conferences like ATALM have been helpful in guiding me through the LIS field.”
Check This Out!
Outside of reading academic journals, Brandon enjoys reading The Sentence by Louise Erdrich.
“It’s a book about someone that works at a Native bookstore in Minnesota and there’s this ghost who lives in the bookstore, so it’s like this whole journey of the characters figuring out how to solve this ghost’s trauma. It’s pretty interesting!”