Discussion Section: Indigenous Librarians: Knowledge Keepers in the 21st Century

By Lee, Deborah | The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Discussion Section: Indigenous Librarians: Knowledge Keepers in the 21st Century


Lee, Deborah, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies


Introduction

Little is known for sure about why there are so few Indigenous librarians in Canada; certainly, very little has been published on this topic. Based on raw data collected by the 8R's Research Team in a nationwide study, Deborah Lee noted that in 2004, "there were fewer than 25 librarians with the professional designation (Master of Library and Information Studies, MLIS) in Canada who identified as Aboriginal" (Lee "Indigenous" 149). This number is very low compared to more than 400 Maori library workers in Aotearoa / New Zealand according to a former president of Те Ropu Whakahau, the national association of Maori people working in libraries (Morehu). Further, the American Indian Library Association (AILA), founded in 1979, is a very active organization that meets twice a year at the national American Library Association conferences (mid-winter and summer); has several active committees and awards groups; and has an ever-growing list of members, to a total of 300 people in August 2015 according to the AILA Executive Director (Gray). Indeed, Patterson has also written a compelling history about Native American librarians.

Unfortunately, Canada does not have this kind of support in the form of an active nation-wide association for its Indigenous librarians. We do have a listserv for Aboriginal information needs in Canada, known as Abin, and is located here: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/ groups/abin/info. It currently has a membership of 87 people but it is very inactive. A quick look at the activity within this group indicates that there have been 16 emails in the first eight months of 2015 and there were 16 email messages for the whole year in 2014. The geographic size of this country and the low numbers of Indigenous people in the profession contribute to a sense of isolation when working in this field and the difficulty in creating a nation-wide organization for Indigenous library workers in Canada. There has also been a lack of support from the national and provincial library associations in terms of assistance in forging bonds among Indigenous librarians. One exception is the British Columbia Library Association's First Nations Interest Group (FNIG).

This article discusses the barriers that prevent Indigenous peoples in Canada from entering the profession and attempts to find solutions to these barriers. In particular, I propose that even bringing these issues to the forefront in an article is one step towards resolving this issue. Part of the discussion in this article will include responses to one question from the questionnaire that I used during my sabbatical research in 2014, when I interviewed more than two dozen Indigenous librarians from across Canada. Their voices speak to the question: "Why are there so few Aboriginal librarians in Canada?"

Background Information:

For those unfamiliar with the topic of Indigenous librarianship, it is focused on providing culturally competent library services for Indigenous peoples:

Indigenous librarianship unites the discipline of librarianship with Indigenous approaches to knowledge, theory, and research methodology. It has a developing bibliography and local, national, and international professional associations devoted to its growth. A focus of Indigenous librarianship is the provision of culturally relevant library and information collections and services by, for, and with Indigenous people. (Burns et al. 2330)

Many readers may also not be aware of the history of Indigenous librarianship in Canada; consequently, it is necessary to provide some context for understanding the article that follows. Except where otherwise noted, the content in this backgrounder comes from the report commissioned by the National Reading Campaign, Aboriginal Peoples and Access to Reading Materials in Canada (Stonepath Research Group), from personal communications with Indigenous librarians, and from common knowledge.

Libraries, other than school libraries, in Aboriginal communities were largely non-existent until the 1960s and 1970s (Edwards). …

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