August 2009 – Announcement from Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) initiated a review in 2007 of the terminology used in Canadian Subject Headings (CSH) to identify Aboriginal peoples in Canada. A LAC proposal to change these headings was posted on several discussion lists for comment. To recap, the proposal was to change the existing headings “Indians of North America” to “First Nations”, “Native peoples” to “Aboriginal peoples” and headings for individual peoples such as “Sarcee Indians” to simply “Sarcee”.
The feedback we have received since then from some 35 institutions or individuals indicates a recognition of the inadequacies and outdatedness of many of the existing headings. However, some users of CSH expressed concern about systems difficulties for them when Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and CSH terms differ for the same concepts, as they would if LAC were to go ahead with the proposed changes. There was also some concern raised about the choice of the proposed new headings, and a lack of consensus on better terminology.
LAC has studied the feedback to the proposal thoroughly, and also consulted with the editors of LCSH and RVM as to future directions in those lists, considering that terminology differs in Canada and the United States. Based on these factors, LAC has decided not to go ahead for now with the changes as proposed. We will instead make a start by considering changing headings for specific Aboriginal peoples on a case by case basis, to see what we can do to improve access. We would be pleased to hear specific suggestions for terminology changes in line with this direction.
Since the overall problems with subject headings for Aboriginal peoples remain, LAC is not closing the file on this question. However, we believe the modest approach outlined above will serve to make a start at improving access in the short run.
This anouncement, released by David Farris of LAC, made the rounds on the listservs early last week. If you belong to AUTOCAT, in particular, there was quite a bit of discussion on this post.
I was disappointed with LAC’s statement, hoping that all of Canada would have the national library to look to for direction. But I’m hopeful for the future. In the meantime, our own library has taken this project on and, to our way of thinking, improved access to our First Nation/Aboriginal Peoples collections. This is the content from my post on AUTOCAT with respect to LAC’s announcement:
Several years ago, we changed our SH’s to reflect the needs of our local community, and, in general, the Canadian public. When we proposed our changes, I sent the information to LAC and while they were very interested, they weren’t ready at that time to take any steps. I believe going ahead with these changes may have labeled us “Radical Cataloguers” but we had to decide whether it was better to continue using inaccurate terms created by the US, or Canadian terms that more appropriately represent our unique culture and Peoples.
As with any heading, I think labeling is tricky as self-identifying terms change over time. However, we felt that if our national library was not in a position to make the change, we are. We’re the first library in Canada to do this. Crazy? Maybe, but better to take a step in the right direction, make mistakes and learn from them. At least our communities see that we are trying and are very appreciative.
If you want to take a look at the terms we have now implemented and are using (and my thoughts on the topic),check out these posts:
Native Peoples v. Indigenous Peoples v. Aboriginals…are any of the terms really any good?
Indigenous Peopls v. Native Peoples Cataloguing Guidelines
**As a follow-up to this article, we have now implemented the use of First Nations in our catalogue
And, if you want to see the use of these terms in action, you can search Halifax Public Libraries’ catalogue.