June 23, 2006

Bias in the bookstacks

The need for American Indian librariansAs with all little known topics in American society—in this instance American Indians and also libraries and their practices—background information is necessary. The Library of Congress (LC) classification systems or the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system set the standards for all aspects of library organization throughout the U.S. and a large portion of the world. However, neither system adequately addresses the histories and contemporary realities of American Indians. For example, neither system has a category for "tribal sovereignty" and as a result even a book entitled "Tribal Sovereignty" might be classified under "Civil Rights—United States" or classed as a subtopic of "United States—History" but not as a concept of government. Under current classification practices this title could appear on library shelves next to titles such as the "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott" or "Primitive Peoples of the U.S."—it would class "tribal sovereignty" along with other "historic events" NOT as an active governmental concept. Both LC and DDC have classifications for countries and state and local governments but none for tribal governments.

What is the message such practices convey to a student or researcher? Simply put: 1. that a subordinate status in U.S. history (the past) IS the "appropriate place" for American Indians (and everything about them), and 2. that "valid" or significant systems of government do not include tribal systems of government. Similar relegations to subordinate status occur throughout DDC and LC, examples: the paintings of Picasso, Monet, Warhol are classified as "Art"; while American Indian sandpaintings, pottery, basketry, etc. are classified as "crafts" or "primitive art"; Protestantism, Catholicism, etc. are classified under "Religion" while American Indian spiritual beliefs are classified as mythology, folklore, or "other religion", etc. And so it goes....In short, every American Indian perspective, accomplishment, or cultural belief, practice, or material product, according to these classification systems, is of a subordinate or inferior nature.

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