Decolonizing Descriptions in the Library Catalogue

Decolonizing description is a recent initiative to ensure accurate and respectful representation of indigenous peoples and contexts through library descriptive metadata practices.

Decolonizing description is a recent initiative to ensure accurate and respectful representation of indigenous peoples and contexts through library descriptive metadata practices. For consistency and access purposes, libraries use controlled vocabularies of subject terms to describe their collections. Metadata and resource descriptions of library collections contain language that reflects the norms and biases of the time in which they were created, and in the case of indigenous peoples, it is a colonially biased language that is still the main language of all the leading controlled vocabularies used by libraries worldwide. The goal of this initiative is to replace inappropriate language in the library metadata and resource descriptions that were introduced during legacy cataloguing practices with a modern decolonized language that accurately and appropriately represents indigenous peoples.

In 2017-2018, the first decolonizing description projects started at the University of Manitobanorth_eastexternal linkUniversity of British Columbianorth_eastexternal link, and the University of Albertanorth_eastexternal link. These institutions have been building vocabularies of subject terms that would be more inclusive and respectful of local indigenous communities and groups. The vocabularies are constantly updated and are freely available for other institutions to use and build upon to implement culturally appropriate description in library catalogues.

At national level, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) Truth and Reconciliation Committeenorth_eastexternal link prepared 10 recommendations, including decolonizing library access and description vocabularies. In 2018, Canadiana, the national heritage collection, went into the care of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) which, soon after, initiated the “Decolonizing Canadiana metadatanorth_eastexternal link” project. In 2019, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) issued their Indigenous Heritage Action Plannorth_eastexternal link that outlines LAC’s metadata decolonization initiative, among others. In 2022, the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA) started a similar project called “Respectful Terminology Platform Projectnorth_eastexternal link”. Université Laval is also involved in this work, particularly with respect to updating the terminology of the RVMnorth_eastexternal link.

The uOttawa Library, along with 17 other Ontario academic libraries, is a member of Collaborative Futuresnorth_eastexternal link (CF) – a collaborative initiative of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) to implement a shared library management system (Omni) and use it effectively to manage print and electronic resources. In 2021, the OCUL-CF Decolonizing Descriptions Working Group was created to prepare recommendations on how CF institutions can support and build upon existing initiatives related to decolonizing description in our library catalogues. In 2022, the Working Group released their final reportnorth_eastexternal link outlining ten recommendations, including:

  • OCUL to develop an indigenous strategic plan
  • institutions to establish ongoing relationships with local indigenous communities
  • institutions to review current cataloguing and descriptive practices and address issues with colonially biased language descriptions
  • institutions to use existing decolonized vocabularies as a starting point
  • OCUL and institutions to explore the creation of local decolonized authority records to be jointly used by CF institutions.

The uOttawa Library, in collaboration with Carleton University, is currently launching a long-term project focused on decolonizing descriptions in our library catalogue. We will be using the final report of the OCUL-CF Decolonizing Descriptions Working Group as a guiding document. We are looking forward to collaborating with local indigenous groups and other interested parties to align our library metadata practices with the decolonizing description initiative.

The first phase of the project will include the following:

  • Draft a working document plan (based on CF Report), including identification of project scope.
  • Test a sampling of cataloguing records to identify issues related to the technical recommendation from OCUL-CF report.
  • Establish a working group with Carleton University Library.
  • Initiate relationship building with both universities’ Indigenous Affairs offices and hold an introductory meeting with the Indigenous Education Council.
  • Identify actions for Phase 2.

Phase 1 will end by Dec 2023.

Additional information

Statement on Harmful Language in Omni

Questions can be directed to the Library's Metadata and Processing department via: [email protected]

chat loading...