Academia as an institution has generated many barriers for Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous students. Academic librarians have the opportunity to help reduce these barriers by understanding some of the issues that they face. However, Indigenous librarianship is currently a relatively small area in the LIS field, with many librarians unaware of the subjects surrounding Indigenous Peoples and libraries, research, information organization, and epistemologies. This video project will begin with an introduction essay and then provide a few short sections on several related topics created through the popular video-sharing app, TikTok, which may act as starting points for non-Indigenous academic librarians to begin understanding the barriers that academia has created for Indigenous students and eventually take steps in dismantling the colonial roots of academia.
I created this video series in hopes that it would be an introduction or first step for academic librarians to begin understanding the topics surrounding Indigenous students and some of the barriers that they may face, as academia is a colonial institution. It also covers topics about misrepresentation in metadata, the peer review process, Indigenous data sovereignty, and things to look for when evaluating sources about Indigenous Peoples. The final two videos are about Traditional Knowledge and why it is important for librarians to understand. This is the topic that first intrigued me to create this series, and I conclude this series by answering the question, but reflecting on this, I think it is an answer to why all of the topics need to be understood.
First, there is a duty towards Indigenous students. Lee (2008) argues that in a university library, it may take courage for an Indigenous student to approach the reference desk because they are facing a paradigm shift from a culture of oral tradition to an academic culture founded on the written word. This, in and of itself, is the first reason that an academic librarian must understand that epistemologies outside of the Western, Eurocentric ones that we are taught to prioritize, exist and should be valued. Although Lee (2008) posits this as a duty for Indigenous librarians, she goes on to mention that Indigenous librarians are very rare. I would argue that although only an Indigenous librarian may be able to truly understand an Indigenous student’s experience, academic librarians of all backgrounds should take steps in learning about Indigenous contexts, because they indicate a different paradigm which understanding can assist one to better connect with an Indigenous student.
Secondly, there is a duty towards Indigenous Ways of Knowing in general. Marsh (2019) advances the idea that the way academic librarians “discover, assess, and value information can be done in a way which validates and pays attention to Indigenous affiliations, perspectives, methodologies, and values” (para. 4), including those of relationality. Currently, scholarly processes of writing and publishing are based on Western ideals of what knowledge is (Marsh, 2019). This excludes other Ways of Knowing and limits Indigenous scholars who are inclined to write with the concepts of relationality, tracing back to oral tradition (Younging, 2018). If academic librarians wish to create space for Indigenous scholars, the oral tradition must be understood and valued as part of Indigenous Knowledge.
Finally, there is an increasing use of Traditional Knowledge in academia. As per Molenaar (2020), academics are increasingly using and highlighting Traditional Knowledge to provide first-hand accounts of Indigenous perspectives and Ways of Being. She states that the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as well as the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report have called to increase the inclusivity of oral histories. As the use of Traditional Knowledges and methods are more widely accepted in academia, academic librarians should be in touch with these methods in order to facilitate their eventual prominence in scholarship.
It is part of an academic librarian’s job to maintain and facilitate access to scholarly information. They must therefore know what Indigenous Ways of Knowing are, the history of their being systemically erased, and the importance of incorporating them into academia. I hope that this video series acts as a starting point for librarians who were once unfamiliar with these topics and all of the barriers that Indigenous students may face so that they can work to dismantle the barriers and create space for the scholars.
The series can be viewed on TikTok (@petra.fa) or here:
Petra is a Lebanese, first-generation settler residing in Treaty 6 territory in amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alberta and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Library and Information Studies from the University, hoping to graduate from the program in Spring 2021. She has worked as a library assistant at the University of Alberta Library and NorQuest College Library, but she first became interested in working in academia through her position as a peer writing tutor at the University of Alberta Centre for Writers. This course has taught her how to be a settler-ally to Indigenous Peoples in academia.