Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Librarians and Indigenous Peoples

iStudent Blog

Published: October 9, 2022 by Kesheena Doctor

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day this October 11th, I would like to share some information about Indigenous people and librarianship. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a relatively new holiday that celebrates Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian peoples the second Monday of October. I am Diné (Navajo), and one of my primary objectives as a librarian is to work with Native American students, and on a larger scale, Indigenous people.

One of my decisions to attend San José State University School of Information was due to the Bridging Knowledge program, which is a comprehensive scholarship program that provides funding, mentorship, networking opportunities and professional development skills for 15 Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian iSchool students. I appreciated that the iSchool had a program for part of the Indigenous diaspora and knew that the school would be inviting to Native American students like myself. 

The iSchool and Indigenous Students 

The classes I am taking have a small, but notable presence of other Indigenous students, which is always a win for Indigenous representation. I was very excited to learn about the Mukurtu CMS project, an access platform designed to adhere to Indigenous cultural protocols, in my INFO 202 Information Retrieval System Design class. Many other course readings also refer to the work of Indigenous librarian professionals, and iSchool students are also invited to information sessions hosted by the Bridging Knowledge program. The first in the series, Bridging Knowledge: Collections, Acquisitions, Technical Services presented by George Gottschalk, is now available to view on the iSchool’s YouTube account.

For my INFO 200 Information Communities course, I chose to write about the information needs of Native American college students and have been able to learn a lot about the area of Indigenous librarianship. Indigenous librarianship centers on the information systems and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. It is a radical lens to view information science from and being able to research about this branch of library science from INFO 200 has been a blessing. Since Indigenous librarianship views the world of information science from an Indigenous standpoint, it can be very beneficial in recognizing the gaps in the profession, improving EDI/DEI work.

iSchool Courses About Librarianship and Indigenous Peoples

The iSchool also offers classes about librarianship and Indigenous peoples. Dr. Ulia Gosart joined the iSchool this fall. She is a tenure track assistant professor who focuses on Indigenous librarianship and is currently teaching INFO 281 – Seminar in Contemporary Issues (Indigenous Cultural Institutions and Practices of Librarianship), which will also be offered in spring 2023. The iSchool’s YouTube channel has a great selection of recorded panel discussions and presentations about information science and Indigenous peoples. As part of Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Heritage Month, the panel discussion from librarians in this community, Understanding and Supporting the Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Community, was held and is also available to view. The iSchool hosted presentation, Present in the Library: Bridging the Past and Future: Improving Library Services for the Native American Community, is also available for viewing on YouTube.

Additional Notable Programs for Indigenous MLIS Students 

In addition to the iSchool’s Bridging Knowledge, there are a few other notable programs for Indigenous MLIS students. The iNative Research Group from the UW Information School and Knowledge River from the University of Arizona School of Information have been committed to promoting indigenous librarianship in the US for many years. In Vancouver, BC, the University of British Columbia has an Indigenous library, X̱wi7x̱wa Library. Formed in 1993, the X̱wi7x̱wa Library has over 12,000 items and uses a specialized classification system centered on Indigenous knowledge. This classification system was based on the Brian Deer Classification System (BDCS), which was created by Kahnawá:ke (Mohawk) librarian, Brian Deer in the 1970’s. (source: Brian Deer Classification System – Indigenous Librarianship – Research Guides at University of British Columbia

There are also quite a few library organizations that support Indigenous peoples. In 1979, the American Indian Library Association was formed, which addressed the specific library needs of Native American communities. AILA is an associate of the American Library Association and a part of the Joint Council of Librarians of Color. The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums is another prominent US organization. While they concentrate on institutions within the US, ATALM has grown and has branched out into larger issues concerning Indigenous peoples from all over the world. Another US-based organization to check out is the Native American Archives Section of the Society of American Archivists.      

Internationally, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has the Indigenous Matters Section, which works with international Indigenous library groups to provide services and information for Indigenous groups. In Australia, the Australian Society of Archivists also has an Indigenous group, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Special Interest Group. Australia also has an information website, the Indigenous Archives Collective, which reports on topical issues pertaining to Australian Indigenous peoples. In nearby New Zealand, is the Te Rōpū Whakahau Māori Library & Information Workers Association. 

I hope that you find this information useful and will enrich your understanding of information science. I am excited to see the directions that Indigenous librarianship will take and how it will create a more diverse and inclusive discipline. If you have any questions or want to chat more about Indigenous librarianship, please feel free to email me at Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!


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