British Columbia

B.C. First Nations council is moving to Indigenous-developed library system

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council is replacing the Dewey decimal system with the Brian Deer classification system. The council's archivist Kat Louro said the geographically-based taxonomy can better represent the worldview of Indigenous communities.

Dewey decimal classification represents colonial worldview, says Carrier Sekani Tribal Council archivist

Kat Louro, the archivist of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, says the Brian Deer classification system has a geographically-based taxonomy that can better represent the First Nations' worldview. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council)

The Dewey decimal classification has long been the standard of organizing library collections around the world, but a First Nations tribal council in B.C.'s Central Interior says it will ditch the system because of its colonial legacy. 

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council is transitioning to the Brian Deer Classification System, which was developed by the late Kahnawake Mohawk librarian Alec Brian Deer in the 1970s. Its taxonomy is based on the geographical locations of Indigenous communities.

The council's archivist Kat Louro created a Brian Deer catalogue manual last February, based on the classifications used at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the University of British Columbia's Xwi7xwa Library. She has added new classifications for themes such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Louro said the Dewey decimal system, developed in the late 19th century, is inherently problematic because of its designer, Melvil Dewey, whose name was stripped from the American Library Association's medal award last year due to his history of racism, anti-Semitism and sexual harassment.

"The system is irrevocably tied to that problematic worldview," said Louro to Carolina De Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North

But even more problematic is how the Dewey system represents Indigenous-related resources, which are often catalogued under social sciences.

"A lot of the subject headings that librarians use and a lot of the metadata norms that archivists use are really biased towards the Western way of looking at organizing knowledge, so it can be difficult to find resources for our researchers," said Louro.

The archivist said she also won't consider the Library of Congress classification system because it organizes materials in an alphabetical order, not based on the geographical locations of Indigenous communities as the Brian Deer system is.

The Dewey decimal classification system, which has been the standard for organizing library collections around the world, is being abandoned at the library and archives of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, B.C. (Courtesy New York Public Library)

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council's library has about 2,000 items. The council's archives contain approximately 5,000 images, 1,000 audio-visual materials and 300 boxes of textual records.

The library and archives, located in the council's building, is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19.

Tap the link below to listen to Kat Louro's interview on Daybreak North:

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With files from Daybreak North