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    Behind the Scenes at the BCIT Library: Decolonizing the Collection

    Behind the Scenes at the BCIT Library: Decolonizing the Collection

    Below, FSA and Indigenous Affinity Circle member Cindy McLellan provides an update on the BCIT Library’s efforts to decolonize their collection.

    A hot topic at library conferences is “Decolonizing the Collection.” This is shorthand for some very technical, intensive, and necessary changes that need to be made to our database(s). Library cataloguing in North America is based on Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) that began in the late 19th century and have evolved slowly since then. This comprehensive and structured vocabulary list, used for cataloging and indexing in libraries, is inherently problematic but also very useful for libraries worldwide, making it an essential tool for resource discovery and subject access.

    Despite its widespread use, LCSH has faced criticism for its historical biases and limitations. The system reflects a Western-centric perspective, and its controlled vocabulary does not adequately represent marginalized communities or emerging disciplines. Nonetheless, LCSH is a vital tool for libraries and information professionals, and efforts are ongoing to make it more inclusive and representative of diverse perspectives.

    Library & Archives Canada (LAC) has written strategies and initiatives as part of their Indigenous Heritage Action Plan, based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): “We will adapt the words we use to describe LAC collections related to First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to enhance access and to ensure a culturally appropriate and respectful approach,” they write. While LAC has made some progress, LCSH has made very little. The interconnected, standardized, and digital nature of library cataloguing makes waiting for LCSH the easy route.

    However, libraries have grown tired of waiting, and library workers won’t let our tiredness get us down. Instead, we find ways to act. A small but dedicated team in the BCIT Library is working to decolonize our catalogue. Using an Excel spreadsheet of almost 1100 problematic terms found in our catalogue, the work done by the Greater Victoria Public Library, Xwi7xwa Library at UBC, and Canadian Research Knowledge Network, we are meticulously combing through the language and finding appropriate, updated, and respectful replacement terms. Once the initial groundwork is complete, we will consult with BCIT Indigenous Initiatives on exact terms.

    The change for BCIT Library patrons will be seamless. Behind the scenes will be a great deal of upkeep and monitoring as digital titles arrive in our Collections all the time with LCSH terms automatically embedded.

    The BCIT Library is striving to be a more inclusive and welcoming space for all. Decolonizing the catalogue is just one of the goals that we are working towards. Thanks to Cindy Chang, François-Xavier Paré, Jarrett Seto, and myself, Cindy McLellan.

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