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Decolonizing Cataloging and Classification

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Presented for Peer Council 2018 by Kalani Adolpho, Diversity Resident Librarian, UW-Madison College Library

Libraries and archives are colonial impositions in many parts of the world, including lands that are now part of the United States Empire. As colonial impositions, libraries are complicit in the perpetuation of colonialism and Western hegemony through classification systems and controlled vocabularies. Through Library of Congress Subject Headings, Indigenous, queer, and gender non-conforming people are historicized, homogenized, and misnamed, and violence perpetuated against us is erased and/or referenced euphemistically.

This session will define, name impact, and provide examples of colonialism in cataloguing and classification, as well as share information on alternative headings and organization systems developed by Indigenous peoples and nations. Additionally, there will be ample time for questions and discussion after the presentation.

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Decolonizing Cataloging and Classification

  1. 1. DECOLONIZING CATALOGING AND CLASSIFICATION K A L A N I A D O L P H O D I V E R S I T Y R E S I D E N T L I B R A R I A N U W - M A D I S O N
  2. 2. DIVERSITY AND WHITENESS IN THE PROFESSION
  3. 3. OVER 85% OF LIBRARIANS ARE WHITE
  4. 4. HAVE DIVERSITY EFFORTS IN RECRUITMENT BEEN SUCCESSFUL? A/PI/NH= Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian NA/NA= Native American/Native Alaskan
  5. 5. RETENTION IS A PROBLEM • “ [By] focusing on numbers rather than the deeper issues of experience and structural discrimination allows the profession to take a self-congratulatory and complacent approach to the ‘problem of diversity’ without ever overtly naming and addressing the issue of whiteness.”  April Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS” • “One must ask oneself if it would be possible to really achieve diversity without challenging our racist, homophobic and sexist consciousnesses that are so deeply imbedded that we don’t even recognize them? If we are [ignorant] to our unconscious biases, then striving for numerically diverse organizations is building on a foundation of sand.” – ShinJoung Yeo and James R. Jacobs Diversity Matters? Rethinking Diversity in Libraries
  6. 6. WHAT IS WHITENESS?  “First, whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is a ‘standpoint,’ a place from which white people look at [themselves], at others, and at society. Third, ‘whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed.  Ruth Frankenberg. White Women, Race Matters  Whiteness is invisible/“normal”  People do not notice their privilege until it is pointed out (and even then, many choose to get defensive)  Inclusion efforts means exclusion is a problem  Diversity initiatives, diversity residencies, and mentoring help marginalized groups adjust, assimilate, and perform whiteness
  7. 7. TERMS AND CONCEPTS
  8. 8. WHITE FRAGILITY • White people in North America are protected from race-based stress • White fragility: a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves including: • Anger • Fear • Guilt • Argumentation • Silence • Segregation (in social settings, neighborhoods, workplaces, etc.) is the first factor leading to white fragility.
  9. 9. TERMS: NATIVE & SETTLER COLONIALISM • A note on the use of native/indigenous • Settler colonialism
  10. 10. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION E X A M P L E S A N D I M PA C T
  11. 11. B E F O R E A N D A F T E R T H E H O R I Z O N : A N I S H I N A A B E A R T I S T S O F T H E G R E AT L A K E S "Illustrated with 70 color images of visually powerful historical and contemporary works, this book--which accompanies an exhibition of the same title opening in August 2013 at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York--reveals how Anishinaabe […] artists have expressed the deeply rooted spiritual and social dimensions of their relations with the Great Lakes region."
  12. 12. L I B R A R Y O F C O N G R E S S S U B J E C T H E A D I N G S Ojibwa art -- Exhibitions. Art, American -- Great Lakes Region (North America) -- Exhibitions. Art, Canadian -- Great Lakes Region (North America) -- Exhibitions
  13. 13. N6538 A4 B44 2013 N5300-7418: FINE ARTS— VISUAL ARTS—HISTORY EXPECTATIONS: EXHIBITIONS REALITY: HISTORY
  14. 14. O R I G I N A L LO C A L : I N D I G E N O U S F O O D S , S TO R I E S , A N D R E C I P E S F R O M T H E U P P E R M I D W E S T “[Indigenous peoples’] menus were truly the "original local," celebrated here in sixty home- tested recipes paired with profiles of tribal activists, food researchers, families, and chefs. […] The innovative recipes collected here--from Ramp Kimchi to Three Sisters Salsa, from Manoomin Lasagna to Venison Mole Chili--will inspire home cooks not only to make better use of the foods all around them but also to honor the storied heritage they represent.”
  15. 15. S U B J E C T S Indians of North America— Food—Northwest, Old. Indian cooking. Local foods—Northwest, Old. CO N T E N T T Y P E S Cookbooks
  16. 16. E98 F7 E735 2013 E75-99: HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS—AMERICA— INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA EXPECTATIONS: COOKING REALITY: HISTORY
  17. 17. INDIGENOUS RELIGIONS Maybe? (But please don’t put it under “mythology” )
  18. 18. BL2500-2592: AMERICAN “FOR AMERICAN INDIANS, SEE CLASSES E-F”
  19. 19. E75-99: “INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA”
  20. 20. FIRST NATIONS LANGUAGES
  21. 21. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION: TREATMENT OF NATIVE AMERICANS  Represent Western knowledge frameworks, developed in the late 19th and early 20 centuries  Native peoples are “history”  Use of the settler’s language and the settler’s terms  Homogenization of Native nations  Reduction of Native knowledge and concepts  Offensive/Outdated terminology
  22. 22. HISTORY CLASSIFICATION IMPACT • “Indeed, colonialism has, as one of its goals, the obliteration rather than the incorporation of indigenous peoples. […] Our daily existence in the modern world is thus best described not as a struggle for civil rights but a struggle against our planned disappearance.”—Haunani-Kay Trask, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i
  23. 23. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS E X A M P L E S A N D I M PA C T
  24. 24. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST: THE CONQUEST OF THE NEW WORLD BY DAVID E. STANNARD
  25. 25. EXCERPT FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF AMERICAN HOLOCAUST
  26. 26. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST: SUBJECT HEADINGS  Columbus, Christopher – Influence  Indians, Treatment of  Indians -- First contact with Europeans  America -- Discovery and exploration – Spanish
  27. 27. A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE INDIES BY BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS
  28. 28. EXCERPT FROM THE BEGINNING OF A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE INDIES, ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1552 • It was upon these gentle lambs, imbued by the Creator with all the qualities we have mentioned, that from the very first day they clapped eyes on them the Spanish fell like ravening wolves upon the fold, or like tigers and savage lions who have not eaten meat for days. The pattern established at the outset has remained unchanged to this day, and the Spaniards still do nothing save tear the natives to shreds, murder them and inflict upon them untold misery, suffering and distress, tormenting, harrying and persecuting them mercilessly. We shall in due course describe some of the many ingenious methods of torture they have invented and refined for this purpose, but one can get some idea of the effectiveness of their methods from the figures alone. When the Spanish first journeyed there, the indigenous population of the island of Hispaniola stood at some three million; today only two hundred survive.
  29. 29. A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE INDIES: SUBJECT HEADINGS • Indians, Treatment of—Latin America • Spain—Colonies—America.
  30. 30. NATIVE AMERICAN DNA : TRIBAL BELONGING AND THE FALSE PROMISE OF GENETIC SCIENCE BY KIM TALLBEAR
  31. 31. ABSTRACT FOR NATIVE AMERICAN DNA: TRIBAL BELONGING AND THE FALSE PROMISE OF GENETIC SCIENCE BY KIM TALLBEAR “Who is a Native American? And who gets to decide? … In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how DNA testing is a powerful—and problematic—scientific process that is useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the ‘markers’ that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic, national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who study them. TallBear notes that ideas about racial science, which informed white definitions of tribes in the nineteenth century, are unfortunately being revived in twenty-first-century laboratories. Because today’s science seems so compelling, increasing numbers of Native Americans have begun to believe their own metaphors: ‘in our blood’ is giving way to ‘in our DNA.’ This rhetorical drift, she argues, has significant consequences, and ultimately she shows how Native American claims to land, resources, and sovereignty that
  32. 32. NATIVE AMERICAN DNA: SUBJECT HEADINGS  Indians of North America -- Anthropometry.  Human population genetics -- North America.  DNA fingerprinting -- North America.
  33. 33. GENDER • With few exceptions, Indigenous third, fourth, fifth, and sixth genders do not have subject headings – No headings for fa’afafine, fakaleiti, or māhū – There is a heading for “Two Spirit people,” but Two-Spirit is an umbrella term
  34. 34. CONTROLLED VOCABULARIES ARE NOT NEUTRAL • Hope Olson argues that, “in imposing controlled vocabulary, we construct both a limited system for the representation of information and a universality/diversity binary opposition. Our systems seem transparent. They appear unbiased and universally applicable—but they actually hide their exclusions under the guise of neutrality. Not surprisingly, this fundamental presumption on which our practice rests disproportionately affects access to information outside of the cultural mainstream and about groups marginalized in our society”
  35. 35. RUNNING THEMES  Homogenization  Lack of specificity  Lack of acknowledgement of Native sovereignty  Minimization of genocide
  36. 36. GENOCIDE • Library of Congress Subject Headings and classification reinforce popular erasure of Native American genocide • Instead, we assign “euphemistic, misleading, and colonial subject headings” • Our headings and call numbers create a barrier to discovery and act as a form of holocaust denial
  37. 37. NAME AUTHORITY CONTROL • Western spellings of non-Western names • Privileging names outsiders use versus names people use for themselves and within their cultures • Recording gender in Name Authority Records • Be on the lookout for: Ethical Questions in Name Authority Control, ed. Jane Sandberg through Library Juice Press this fall.
  38. 38. DECOLONIZING LIBRARIES
  39. 39. REFLECTION / SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION / SHARE OUT WHAT ARE SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO ANY OF THE PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED ISSUES IN RESOURCE DESCRIPTION AND CL ASSIFICATION?
  40. 40. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS • Multi-cultural librarianship, non-European language courses, ethnic studies, and non- mainstream white history courses should be required as part of the MLIS • Hire people from the communities you seek to represent • Value alternative pathways to expertise (outside of degrees) when it comes to recruitment • Collaborate with communities, pay them for their time, let them keep their materials – Post-Custodial Praxis! • Use alternative subject headings and classification systems • Re-describe materials already in your collections • Consider ethically and culturally responsive content management systems like Mukurtu
  41. 41. LIBRARY DECOLONIZATION PROJECTS
  42. 42. MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT THESAURUS OF AMERICAN INDIAN TERMINOLOGY • “…created in response to the inadequate use of the English language and the exclusion of Indigenous philosophies in the description of American Indian subjects in mainstream controlled vocabularies. The project addresses this disparity by providing an Indigenous philosophy as the structure for organizing information. • “It is designed to be user-centered and to reflect the information-seeking behavior of Native and non-Native scholars and researchers who conduct research on American Indians.” • “As a controlled vocabulary, the primary goal of the Thesaurus is to inform Library of Congress Subject Headings.” Littletree & Metoyer, pp. 641, 644, 645.
  43. 43. THE FOUR DOMAINS OF THE MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT THESAURUS
  44. 44. S P I R I T UA L D O M A I N ( E A S T ) Dimensions: Time Space Manifestations: Sacred Ceremonial Practices Legendary Beings Sacred Objects Sacred Plants Tobacco Sacred Practitioners Sacred Beings Philosophy Creation Afterworld
  45. 45. ALTERNATIVE THESAURI • The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology • National Indian Law Library Thesaurus • First Nations House of Learning Thesaurus • Maori Subject Headings Thesaurus • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Thesaurus
  46. 46. M U KURTU Community driven, ethically minded content management system for digital heritage materials Access is controlled by cultural protocols Indigenous knowledge does not “want to be free”
  47. 47. CONCLUSION • Libraries are 85% white, recruitment is offered as the main solution • Library of Congress classification and subject headings perpetuate colonialism and are inadequate to describe Indigenous materials • Alternative classification systems and subject headings have been made in response to the inadequacy and offensiveness of LC • We have a lot of work to do
  48. 48. REFLECTION / SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION / SHARE OUT 1. How is colonialism perpetuated in your institution? 2. What might decolonization look like in your work? 3. What are the barriers to this work? 4. How can we overcome these barriers? 5. Are you familiar with any other decolonization projects that you would like to share?
  49. 49. REFERENCES AND FURTHER READINGS HT TPS:// TINYURL.COM / DECOLONIZINGLIBRARIES QUESTIONS?

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