Strengthening Relationships, Empowering Communities: Library Reflections on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

On 9 August, we mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Through the 2021 theme: Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract, the UN calls for a new approach “based on genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all”. Learn more about this year’s theme here [link].

Of course, meaningful change must come at every level, including in policies. However, creating community by fostering learning and partnership can be an important driver of positive change. Libraries are spaces for such participatory processes to happen. They can be nodes for education and conversation, for ensuring that voices are heard and that the lived experiences of marginalised peoples are centred in the narrative.

Engagement with Cultural Heritage

Access to knowledge, information, and resources are central to the mission of the library and information field. Critically, access includes access to cultural-relevant materials. This includes materials in a diverse range of languages and concerning the cultural expressions and life of the community of one’s choosing.

Accessing and interacting with cultural heritage and expressions are essential for the passing-down of knowledge within a community. They also enable meaningful encounters across cultures in the spirit of fostering multiculturalism.

We saw examples when IFLA’s Cultural Heritage Programme Advisory Committee organised the virtual event, Libraries Inspire Engagement with Cultural Heritage. This webinar invited speakers working with their institutions’ collections, visitors, community groups, and the larger public to help people experience, appreciate, learn from, and share cultural heritage.

Some perspectives shared centred on an Indigenous view of cultural heritage librarianship, and highlighted examples of how memory institutions can work on engagement with collections in partnership with concerned communities.

Here is a look at highlights from these conversations.

Indigenous Worldviews in Libraries

Camille Callison, chair of the IFLA Indigenous Matters Section and Librarian at the University of the Fraser Valley, Canada spoke about steps libraries can take to create relationship with Indigenous communities, towards building a cultural hub and a heart within our institutions.

An important step is including Indigenous worldviews in libraries and acknowledging the Indigenous communities who are the traditional stewards of the land.

The land itself can be a library – telling the story of the community’s creation and linage and the origin of nations. Community elders, the keepers and tellers of stories, are themselves living libraries and archives.

Translating this knowledge into library institutions can be done through building relationships with the communities. This can include inviting elders to give story-times and making opportunities for Indigenous artists to display, share and speak about the art they create. It also includes using appropriate terminologies in classification systems and subject headings, and by respecting the ownership of knowledge by Indigenous peoples, such as by correctly citing Indigenous knowledge – including knowledge transmitted orally by Indigenous storytellers.

She stresses the importance of training – both aimed at encouraging Indigenous peoples to enter the library profession, and through cross-cultural learning to enable library and information professionals of all backgrounds to work together to create more inclusive systems. These efforts are critical to ensuring the cultural relevance of libraries for Indigenous communities.

Watch Camille’s full address online here: LINK

Community-Driven Collections Engagement

Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator and Head of the Collections Care and Access Department at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Canada, shared several examples of how the institution enables Indigenous communities to access collections in a way that values the intangible heritage of community knowledge and tradition.

An important aspect of this work are the three types of access visits that the museum has developed. The first invites community groups or individuals to interact with collections at the museum itself, offsetting the costs of their visits through a granting programme. The museum also carries out study visits, in which collections of material are brought directly to communities. She highlights that these are reciprocal learning exchanges, where museum conservation staff enhance their own understanding about the objects, their creation and their meaning, from the community members.

The third type of access she detailed is loaning for activation. In this programme, objects from the museum collection that serve, for example, as traditional evidence of important rites and privileges are brought to communities to fulfil the function for which they were created.

These loans push hard again the traditional view of museum collection standards, as the usual requirements around environmental control and handling procedures of the objects are dropped to allow meaningful engagement with the object. This is made possible by aligning institutional practices with the key principle that Indigenous peoples have the right to manage and control their own material culture and information about that material culture.

We encourage you to find out more and see examples of these access programmes in action here: LINK

Leave No One Behind

Libraries are spaces for community, education, storytelling, cultural transmission and sharing. They are spaces where the narrative of our communities can be revisited, revised, and made more inclusive. They are hubs for community activation and participatory processes that push for meaningful legislative change.

Ensuring libraries are culturally relevant for Indigenous communities, creating connections that centre Indigenous worldviews and perspectives, and empowering Indigenous librarians, community leaders, artists and storytellers are all important aspects in ensuring libraries are active champions of development that leaves no one behind.

We encourage the international library community to work in partnership with Indigenous communities to create this space together.

Follow IFLA’s Indigenous Matters Section for more information about their work towards supporting the provision of culturally responsive and effective services to Indigenous communities throughout the world.

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