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ATA library embraces respect for Indigenous people

May 14, 2019 Mark Milne, ATA News Staff
ATA librarian Sandra Anderson (left) and staff officer Melissa Purcell peruse some books that are filed under subject classifications that have been revised to remove words that may be offensive to Indigenous peoples.

The ATA library has broken with tradition in an effort to take a bold step toward truth and reconciliation.

Library staff recently finished “decolonizing” the catalogue by replacing any terms or subject classifications that may be considered offensive to Indigenous peoples.

“It’s not something that’s on everybody’s radar,” says ATA librarian Sandra Anderson, “and certainly the Indigenous community has far bigger fish to fry than how things are organized in the library catalogue. But as a librarian, it’s one of the things that I can do to meet the obligations of truth and reconciliation.”

Most libraries use a classification system developed by the U.S. Library of Congress, which uses the phrase “Indians of North America” to refer to Indigenous peoples. Because the Library of Congress has shown little interest in changing its classification terms, Canadian libraries have moved to alter this set of headings and offensive language independently. Normally, libraries do not make such changes because of the desire to keep cataloguing consistent throughout the system, but when Anderson discovered the University of Manitoba had already developed an outline for the alterations, she was on board.

“There’s no point to delay doing it. Once I found out that schema was already developed … boom! It’s time to change,” she said.

Anderson says she has also implemented an Indigenous perspective in the catalogue.

“For instance, when we have a book on traditional plant use, we would typically put that under ethnobotany and maybe medicinal plants,” says Anderson. “Now we also put it under traditional medicine and traditional knowledge.”

Anderson said library staff have also used “Indigenous” to replace words like “Indian”,

“native” and “Aboriginal” in content descriptions.

Melissa Purcell, the ATA staff officer for Indigenous education, applauds the changes.

“I’m very excited that our ATA library took their own initiative to take a look at the current system in place and work toward decolonizing it,” says Purcell. “Somebody didn’t tell them to do it.”

Both Purcell and Anderson believe the changes need to go much further than just titles and classifications.

“I’m kind of excited to see that we, within the Association and the ATA library, are role modeling for other folks some changes they can make within their own spaces,” Purcell said.

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time the ATA library has deviated from the Library of Congress classification system. They’ve already changed many labels used to describe the LGBTQ community. Anderson says the term “homosexual” has been removed and replaced it with “gay man” or “lesbian.” She also discovered that both the LGBTQ and Indigenous peoples categories were severely lacking in content.

“Both of those collections went from being a few books to now being really robust collections with hundreds of books,” says Anderson. “I think it’s fantastic! I’m really excited because I think it’s well overdue. Knowing there are things I can do to rectify very small injustices … it’s part of culture having to change and I’m really happy to be able to do my bit.” ❚


Some of the main changes to subject headings are as follows:

Old language  New language 
 Indians of North America  Indigenous Peoples — Canada
 Indigenous Peoples — United States
 Indian Woman  Indigenous Woman
 Indian Youth  Indigenous Youth
 Indians of North America — Homosexuals   Indigenous Peoples — Two Spirit
 Indians of North America — Transsexuals  Indigenous Peoples — Two Spirit
 Cree Indians  Cree Tribes
 Canadian Literature  Canadian Literature — Indigenous Authors
 Indians in Literature  Indigenous Peoples In Literature

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