X̱wi7x̱wa Library: An Indigenous Approach to Categorizing Knowledge

Decorative: A picture of the Xwi7xwa library with the caption, "The Xwi7xwa building was designed after 'pit houses' created by Interior Salish nations. Photo by Jessica Woolman"

 

"This Library Takes an Indigenous Approach to Categorizing Books" (post) introduces the "X̱wi7x̱wa Library (pronounced whei-wha) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver" that "aims to counter Western, colonial bias and better reflect the knowledge of Indigenous peoples."

  • "[T]he publication industry, classification systems like the DDC [Dewey Decimal System] and Library of Congress, and libraries themselves are all ultimately rooted in colonial ways of generating knowledge."
  • "By offering an alternative to the widely used Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classification systems, this library aims to take steps toward decolonizing the way information is sorted, cataloged, and shared."

1. Some Challenges

a. Categorization Systems

"[M]ainstream library systems reflect Western methods of sorting information, rather than Indigenous methods."

  • "[S]ubject headings [are often] part of the issue ... sort[ing] Native topics into the history-related sections of the DDC."
  • "As a result, Native peoples are treated as historic artifacts instead of a living group of people with present-day struggles."
  • As well, "[s]ystems like the DDC and Library of Congress ... sort according to alphabetical order.
  • "Canadian First Nations libraries organize information on Indigenous communities geographically according to region, ... reflecting a sense of place."

b. Language Challenges

  • "[T]he systems also can’t easily incorporate Native American languages that use non-Roman characters in the spelling of certain words."

c. Western Bias

"Western bias also plays a role in the way Indigenous literature gets shelved."

  • "Native American creation stories get sorted with folklore or fairytales, for example, while biblical tales are in the nonfiction section."

d. Books That Reinforce Stereotypes

  • "[B]ooks filled with harmful stereotypes and false information about Indigenous communities ... perpetuat[e] stereotypes."

2. Some of X̱wi7x̱wa Library's Responses

  • "X̱wi7x̱wa helps counter this bias by more accurately representing Indigenous knowledge and culture."

a. Cataloging and Classification System

  • "It ... us[es] a cataloging and classification system that was designed by an Indigenous librarian ... an adapted version of the Brian Deer Classification system, ... created in 1974 by Brian Deer, a Kahnawake librarian."
  • "The system incorporates Indigenous perspectives when categorizing books."
  • "It makes research easier, but informally, it also teaches."

b. Using Tribes' Preferred Names in Subject Headings

"One of the most important ways it does this ... is by using subject headings that reflect a tribe’s preferred name."

  • “'Westerners use their labels, so it makes tribes invisible,' Tarango said. 'This is a way of reestablishing identity and saying these are our names and these our people.'"
  • "By using Indigenous names and with Indigenous librarians on staff, X̱wi7x̱wa is able to provide a resource that organizes information in a way to which Indigenous students are more accustomed."

c. Separating Out Books That Perpetuate Stereotypes

This separate collection "provide[s] an opportunity to explain to non-Indigenous folks why such material perpetuates stereotypes."

  • It is also "important in teaching non-Native students to critically analyze common misinformation about Indigenous culture."

3. Benefits

a. "By using Indigenous names and with Indigenous librarians on staff, X̱wi7x̱wa is able to provide a resource that organizes information in a way to which Indigenous students are more accustomed."

  • "The library’s Indigenous approach to categorization and relationship building with students makes it a beloved source of community for British Columbia’s Indigenous people."

b. "The library is also intended to serve as a learning tool for non-Indigenous students."

  • It helps "educat[e] non-Indigenous students on how libraries’ use of Western subject headings and categorization methods negatively impact Native peoples."
  • It "articulate[s] the need to those people who aren’t aware and hopefully get[s] their buy-in that these are issues that need to be addressed."
  • "[A] resource like X̱wi7x̱wa can generate productive conversations."
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