Interview: “Arizona State University Librarian On a Mission to ‘Reclaim and Repatriate’ Indigenous Knowledge”
From ASU News:
Starting this fall, students and researchers visiting ASU Library’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center at Fletcher and Hayden libraries (on the West and Tempe campuses, respectively) will have the opportunity to work with an expert in Native American and Indigenous libraries and archives.
Earlier this year, the Labriola Center welcomed Vina Begay as the newest member of the Indigenous-led library center team. Begay is a member of the Diné Nation.
Begay most recently worked as a librarian and archivist at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and as an archivist at Diné College. In her role with the Labriola Center, she will ensure culturally appropriate collections management and is available to work with all Arizona State University students and instructors seeking research assistance about Indigenous peoples.
Begay spoke to ASU News about her journey in libraries, archives and museums, how her theater background informs her work in storytelling and her goals for safeguarding Indigenous materials in the library collections.
Q: You also have a focus on digital archiving and accessibility. What are some of the issues when searching for Indigenous materials digitally?
A: I can discuss a lot of these issues, so I will focus on the main issue, which is description. Description, taxonomy and Dublin Core plays a crucial role in discovery of information in digital archives and information. The description of our Indigenous materials is based on controlled vocabulary, often set and based on the Library of Congress (LOC) Classification systems. The LOC subject headings do not capture or culturally describe our Indigenous materials.
I did a presentation three years ago with my colleagues from Northern Arizona University on this topic. From their collection, I took three pictures in relation to my tribe. I went to my parents, we had lunch and I asked them how they would describe each of these photographs. I took my parents description and placed it side by side to the LOC description; neither description had a connection. My parents’ description included describing objects and action in the Diné language, cultural name identifications, clanship, cultural background and sharing of traditional knowledge along the way. This disparity in description does not allow our tribal communities (to participate) in the retrieval and discovery of our information.
This not only applies to digital archives, it also applies to circulating books. It becomes difficult for Indigenous students who are looking for Indigenous materials through the library catalog and database. Believe it or not, it does impact our community, including our Indigenous students and instructors. Referring back to my parents, this was just their description. Now picture the impact on an entire collection when institutions collaborate and allow tribal communities to describe their materials. Huge impact.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.