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Library catalogue

Decolonizing description

Statement on Decolonizing Description in the library catalogue 

Library users and staff may encounter harmful or problematic terminology in their library’s catalogue. Libraries have been complicit in perpetuating a knowledge organization system reflective of a colonial worldview and maintaining colonial approaches to descriptive practice. Libraries using Sitka Evergreen’s Integrated Library System have been using controlled, standardized vocabulary derived from Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to describe and provide subject-based catalogue access to library collections. LCSH terminology used to describe library materials on topics of Indigenous Peoples and cultures have long been recognized as biased, outdated, offensive, and in need of updating to align more closely with preferred terminology, language in use, and providing improved subject-based access to library materials on these topics. 

A shift from reliance upon LCSH for describing library materials on Indigenous topics offers libraries an opportunity to challenge and decenter the cognitive imperialism inherent in LCSH and standardized descriptive practices in order to provide respectful and equitable access to collections. 

As a library member of a consortium, we are committed to:

  • Ongoing learning with humility from professional resources and projects to inform approaches and to improve descriptive practices

  • Centring care and awareness for library user communities in the ways we approach descriptive practices 

  • Welcoming diverse perspectives by engaging and consulting library user communities

  • Perceiving the catalogue as a “living” resource to be maintained and updated with evolving changes to subject-based terminology and descriptive practices  

  • Removing inaccurate, outdated, biased, and offensive subject-based terminology to be replaced with updated subject-based terminology that aims to accurately describe library materials and provide subject-based access with consideration to equitable and inclusive access and retrieval of library materials on Indigenous topics

  • Engaging with professional development opportunities and resources to inform approaches and to continually improve descriptive practices

  • Acknowledging the intersectionality of this work, and the harmful effects of LCSH terminology upon diverse groups of library user communities. Future phases of this work will consider and update subject-based terminology for describing materials on topics such as, IBPOC, women, 2SLGBTQ+, neurodiverse people, and people with disabilities.

Questions or feedback? Email

Sitka's Evergreen Cataloguing Working Group

More information about the work of Sitka's Evergreen partner libraries to decolonize description can be found on Sitka's Evergreen Support page.

Specific steps

The library catalogue

Library catalogue records describe items that are part of our physical collections. Cataloguers must follow national and international standards to ensure items are searchable online. Camosun Library uses a shared catalogue system which can limit the control we have over editing records. Over 100 libraries may have items attached to a single record!

Despite these constraints, Camosun Library staff and faculty librarians are committed to describing Indigenous-focused material in more accurate and respectful ways. Specifically, we are:

  • identifying and removing or modifying harmful subject headings in library catalogue records
    • if removing subject headings is not feasible due to shared holdings, more respectful terms will be added
  • enhancing shared bibliographic records to highlight Indigenous content by:
    • adding detailed contents notes
    • including names of all contributors
    • adding subject headings and names for BC First Nations from Indigenous authorities such as the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) and X̱wi7x̱wa Library at UBC
    • following Gregory Younging's, Elements of Indigenous Style, whenever possible (e.g. ensuring Indigenous is capitalized in library records)
  • advocating for changes to vendor metadata and search tools to update terminology
  • engaging with the Camosun community and members of local Indigenous communities in a respectful manner and inviting them to be part of the decision-making process whenever possible
  • following developments of the work being done by the Indigenous-led NIKLA (National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance) initiative to create a framework for respectful terminologies and practices

Quick reads

Reports and Recommendations

The following reports guide and inform our work.