A New Class System: The Need for First Nations Classification

This article by LTAIG member Ashley Van Dijk was originally published in the OALT/ABO (Ontario Association of Library Technicians) NewsLETTER, Winter 2012 issue.  Thanks to Ashley and the NewsLETTER editors for permission to post, and to Tamarack Hockin for suggesting it.

“It is useful for scholars to be able to go to one section and find all American Indian materials in one place….However, using LCC or DDC in a Native-specific collection can become a frustrating experience.” (Tomren, 2003, p. [17]). Traditionally, libraries use either the Dewey Decimal system or the Library of Congress system to serve the needs of public and university library members respectively. However, do these classification systems work for a library with a narrow, more focused collection such as a First Nations library? How accessible is the material for those library members? This paper focuses on the inadequacies of the Library of Congress with regard to a First Nations collection. Using two examples of items that get lost within the traditional classification system I present a case for the development of a First Nations classification system.

I am the Library Assistant for the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, in Chilliwack, British Columbia. The Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre has a small research library with a collection that is narrowly focused on Stó:lō First Nation, a subgroup of the Coast Salish in British Columbia. The Stó:lō and their traditional territory extend from just past Yale, B.C. in the Fraser Canyon all the way down to the mouth of the Fraser River in Vancouver where the Musqueam reside. Within Stó:lō First Nation are multiple tribal groups, the largest in the Chilliwack area are Ts’elxwéyeqw, Pilalt and Tait. Within these three groups are numerous bands that were created by the Department of Indian Affairs to facilitate administration of the Indian Act. Their communities and culture are still alive, and belong in the present.

Our library uses the Library of Congress system, in addition to having an extensive vertical file system to accommodate journal articles and original research. A quick glance might not allow one to understand the dilemma with using this classification system – after all the law material is rightfully placed in the K class and language material in the P class. The problem lies with material that is more specific to the Stó:lō such as reports written about the repatriation of the ancestor T’xwelátse, collections of legends and studies of specific village sites. These items are generally placed in one of four areas, and each is in the History class:

  1. E78 B9: ‘Indians of North America, by state, province, or region’ followed by ‘British Columbia’,
  2. E78 N78: ‘Indians of North America, by state, province, or region’ followed by ‘Northwest Coast of North America’,
  3. E99 S2 or 21: ‘Indians of North America, tribes and cultures’ followed by either ‘Salish’ or ‘Salishan including Coast Salish’ and
  4. E99 S72: ‘Indians of North America, by tribe or culture’ followed by ‘Stalo’.

As indicated with these four examples, “LCC does not support high levels of specificity demanded by a collection with a strong First Nations focus.” What I hope to demonstrate is the inadequacy of these four call numbers to logically organize our material for our membership. Where would one look for a band’s history, or their origin legends? In addition to those two questions is the bigger question, of how one reflects the fact that First Nations are current in today’s society, and do not belong strictly in the past? Faced with the dilemma of how to catalogue materials to best suit our membership’s needs, my co-worker and I began discussing the creation of a classification to fit our library’s needs. This work is still in draft format, and yet I hope this paper reflects how relevant and needed a First Nation’s classification system is.

In her paper titled ‘Classification, Bias, and American Indian Materials’ Holly Tomren looks at both the Dewey and LC classification system with regards to American Indians. She discusses the problem of having headings that go no further than a tribal group, or location. According to Tomren, there are “over 500 American Indian nations, each with a unique culture, language, history, and worldview.” (p. [7]). While Tomren’s paper primarily looks at the United States of America, in Canada there is just as diverse a First Nation population with 612 bands as of 2006; of these there are 198 bands within British Columbia. To narrow it even further, there are 29 bands who make up Stó:lō, each with their own history and legends, as well as three distinct languages. It is alarming to think that these distinct cultural groups could be classified as the same. Obviously, a sub-class that does not specify which band the work is about is lacking the ability to properly classify the work.

The task of how to classify material in a library where the collection is focused on First Nations was tackled by Brian Deer in the 1970s. His classification system is known as the Brian Deer Classification System and is in use at the Xwi7xwa Library at the University of British Columbia and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs’ reference library in Vancouver, British Columbia. Deer’s classification system went into further depth than the Library of Congress Classification System with regard to tribal names and location, as well as the concepts of self-government and rights and title, which in LCC are placed in the Law class. Brian Deer also has sub-classes for information regarding elders and legends, two areas which house valuable information for First Nations researchers. However, Brian Deer does have drawbacks. Once again, one cannot sub-classify further than ‘Stó:lō’ and there are not many areas to reflect current work being done; most items would be classified as History, as with Library of Congress.

I would like to present two case studies with items pulled from our library shelves. Each item is an unpublished work; therefore a LCC call number has not been assigned. I am going to compare the LCC call number created by our staff for the item to both Brian Deer and our classification system, the Stó:lō Classification. The first item I want to look at is a Master’s thesis entitled ‘Looking for Snob Hill and Sq’ewqel: Exploring the changing Histories of Aboriginality and Community in two Aboriginal Communities’ by Katya Clair MacDonald which looks at a Metis community in Saskatchewan and Seabird Island, a local First Nation band. Library of Congress would have us classify this item at E99 S2 M135 (‘Indians of North America, tribes and cultures, Stalo’ and then a Cutter for author’s last name), in Brian Deer this item would be classified as BJS M135 (‘History, BC, Stó:lō’ and a Cutter for author’s last name). Neither of these classifications systems provides a way to determine which band the work is about and with 29 Stó:lō bands that is an important piece of information. In the Stó:lō Classification system, this item would be given the call number of BC2- M135 (‘History & Geography, Specific Bands’ and a Cutter for author’s last name). With the Stó:lō Classification system, one can place all the items relating to one area together, creating ease of browsing for our members.

The next item I want to look at is another Master’s thesis; this one written by Morley Eldridge titled ‘Archaeological Spatial Analysis of DiRi 14’. While the subject in this paper is a historic site, the work which was done for this paper was current archaeology fieldwork. In Library of Congress, this work is given the call number E78 B9 E4 (‘Indians of North America, by state, province, or region, followed by British Columbia’ and a Cutter for author’s last name). The Brian Deer system gives a call number of BQ E4 (‘History, Archaeology’ followed by a Cutter for the author’s last name). The item in question does not look at historical archaeology as it is a result of the author’s fieldwork. To reflect this, in the Stó:lō Classification this item would be given the call number of D40 E4 (‘Social Sciences, Archaeology’ with a Cutter for the author’s last name). Under the Archaeology sub-class heading is room to add items and other sub-classes, such as history or for specific locations, allowing for constant expansion of the Stó:lō Classification system as needed.

In conclusion, this paper looks at the use of Library of Congress within a First Nations library, highlighting the inadequacies of having a limited area to classify material. It presents the need to have a localized classification system, as the Brian Deer system is a general classification system. British Columbia has a vastly diverse First Nations population, and there is a need to have this reflected in library classification systems so that library members can better access the material. Related material needs to be in collocated to facilitate research and use by Stó:lō community members and other researchers. The creation of a First Nations classification system would benefit our library and our membership.

Tomren, H. (2003). Classification, Bias and American Indian Materials. Unpublished paper. San Jose: San Jose State University. Retrieved from http://ailasacc.pbworks.com/f/BiasClassification2004.pdf.

2 thoughts on “A New Class System: The Need for First Nations Classification

  1. Thank you for re-publishing this article here, Ashley! It is great that the SRRMC is doing a customised classification system for its user. I have nearly lost sleep over having to classify with DDC! We end up ‘loosing’ some amazing items when they are not shelved in a browse-able way.

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