Behind the decolonization of libraries

The decolonization of libraries is a delicate subject in Quebec. In the media, social or not, the subject regularly gives rise to stormy discussions. However, during this time, several libraries here, slower in this process than their Canadian counterparts, continue their decolonization action, each in its own way. Insights into the libraries of the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Center de services scolaire des Mille-Îles and, as a Canadian reference, Calgary.

The library of the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) is one of those that integrate the Aboriginal perspective, both in physical arrangements and in cultural security or the development of collections.

“From the outset, UQAT had a great political will to promote contacts with indigenous peoples,” recalls the director, David Fournier-Viger, in particular with “Anichinabe communities, mainly communities of Lac Simon and of Pikogan, and the Eeyou nations of the territory of Nord-du-Québec. “

One of the keys to the evolution of this library, according to Mr. Fournier-Viger, was to be able to count on the team formed by the University to help native students. “In our field interventions, we will ask them for advice on how to act intelligently and with skill. It consolidates us and it solidifies us. We have help. “

From the outset, UQAT had a great political will to promote contacts with indigenous peoples.

At the library, First Peoples students can be assisted in carrying out their work. A service which is adapted to them, but which remains open to all, including international students, for example, “who do not all start from the same footing”, indicates the director. “Some people come here and have never worked with a computer. “

Through discussions with professors, lecturers and students, the collection has grown of Indigenous voices and views, as needed. “We don’t just take French-language documentation, that would be insufficient for our needs,” says Fournier-Viger. Our talent is the indigenous populations of the world, even if we pay special attention to those here. “

Since 2018, the UQAT library has also offered training activities adapted to First Peoples students, “and that could mean that it takes place in English,” specifies the director. For some communities that are here, it is English, the second language ”. An Englishman who is also a small hindrance internally. “We have a long way to go: all my staff is not 100% bilingual. There is sometimes resistance which also comes from the staff; we’re working on it, and we still have a mountain or two to climb. “

What refers

“Recently, two librarians worked on the University’s methodological guide, with guidelines that allow traditional knowledge to enter research. It indicates how to make a quotation from oral tradition, how to integrate it into research. “

The director remains critical of all the steps taken by his establishment: “It does not go far enough. We should also promote employment to provide work experience. It is a project that I would like to develop. David Fournier-Viger would also like to invite First Peoples authors to various meetings. And as the Rouyn library will soon be renovated, the director aims to add a cultural security space. “We also want to offer multilingual or pictorial signage, including First Peoples languages. “

It is no small thing to think that the development must be welcoming and also reflect Aboriginal cultures, while allowing gatherings, sharing, community learning. The Calgary, Alberta Library is exemplary, with its Elder Circle, Indigenous Language Resource Center, and facilities and artwork representing the seven nations in the land – Siksikaistitapi, Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and Ĩyãħé Nakoda.

There, decolonization began with the hiring of an Indigenous leader in 2017, the first member of the Indigenous Services team. “We then wondered how to start the job in the best possible way,” says Heather Robertson, director of services. By thinking about it before taking the first steps, do we understand between the lines. “How can we learn from the territory in which we are working and build new relationships with the members of the communities? She asks herself again.

A library that makes books

Four years later, the library is transformed. “It’s a process, and that’s the thing to remember. It is not a project: it is an ongoing engagement with the communities. One of the challenges, explains Mme Robertson, is to constantly seek out what can block access to the library. “Aboriginal people who lived on reserves, for example, had to pay their subscription because they were not considered residents of the city of Calgary. It changed in 2017. ”

The library’s mandate evolved along with this commitment, and the Calgary library found itself, in partnership with Éditions Durvile, to publish books. The Treaty 7 Language Books project sponsored seven Indigenous people to write a children’s book in the language of their nation – languages ​​that are absolutely under-represented in the collection, says the director of services. Books, such Niitsippookxistani (My braids), by Latasha Calf Robe, and Napi kii Imitaa (Napi and the dogs), by Tim Fox, can now be found in every public library in Alberta.

“The addition of knowledge”

The 72 school libraries of the Center de services scolaire des Mille-Îles (CSSMI) have another mandate, necessarily more educational. And that makes the need to “clear the collection,” as school librarian Lyne Rajotte calls it, more urgent. “A few years ago, I was giving training in one of our schools in the north crown of Montreal and I found myself for the first time with more than a black child in front of me. I had to check the school’s books to be sure that we were offering representative models to all the students. We made a two-year plan to increase the collection in this way. “

For four years, the CSSMI libraries have systematically bought “100% of what is“ non-white ” [créateurs ou personnages] as novelties; and there isn’t even enough. We have a bigger budget than what we find on the French market. We put all the novelties of Éditions Hannenorak [spécialisée en voix autochtones] on our shopping list, for example. We, it is by adding knowledge that we decolonize our libraries. But we can’t find enough books for our needs. “

Is this decolonization a big job? It would be, replies Mme Rajotte, “if it was taxed over a short period. But we choose to do it little by little and we follow the productions of publishing houses. And it’s super nice! It gives us a new look at children’s literature and our collections, and it’s extremely stimulating. “

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