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York, Ryerson Universities Host Summit on Decolonizing Description in Libraries, Archives

Discussion facilitated by Stacy Allison-Cassin, Anna St.Onge, Joy Kirchner, and Jamie Lee Morin (from left to right)

York University Libraries, in collaboration with Ryerson University Libraries in Toronto, hosted a summit, “In Our Own Words: Decolonizing Description in the Library and Archival Community,” June 14–15, 2018. The sold-out event convened more than 80 library and archive practitioners, experts in Indigeneity, and other community members, scholars, and cultural heritage workers from throughout Canada for presentations, discussions, and workshops exploring practical strategies for decolonizing the description of cultural heritage materials, particularly Indigenous collections and holdings in Canada. The event was an outcome of a joint project of the Wikimedia Foundation and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Advancing Reconciliation and Social Justice in Libraries through Research Library and Community Collaboration in Wikimedia Projects.

Systemic issues related to colonization continue to reside in library and archival description. The Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, as well as specific calls to action directed at knowledge and heritage institutions released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, clearly outline pathways for addressing the impacts of colonization in and around educational and cultural heritage environments. The emphasis of this summit was on establishing a community of practice in the Toronto region that crosses institutional boundaries and that surfaces and centers local and community expertise. The event was grounded by Indigenous knowledge principles, with a strong emphasis on reciprocity.

The summit sought to explore such questions as: How can we link descriptive practices to social justice work and decolonization efforts? How do we create and maintain a collaborative community of practice? How does structured data such as linked open data create space? How do we engage in community-led description? How do we support Indigenous researchers and community members and improve their experience within heritage institutions?

The program featured a compelling launching address by Camille Callison of the University of Manitoba Libraries, followed by numerous, participant-led sharing circles and other opportunities for discussion, exchange, and engagement. Day two of the summit opened with a panel discussion featuring Shiri Pasternak, director of research at the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University; Ruth Koleszar-Green, special advisor to the president on Indigenous issues and assistant professor of social work at York University; and Jesse Thistle, doctoral student in history at York University and Trudeau Scholar and Vanier Scholar. Participants collaboratively developed an action plan that will help move this work forward.

The summit was organized by Anna St.Onge and Stacy Allison-Cassin at York University and Trina Grover, Ryerson University, with the support of Jamie Lee Morin at York University as well as numerous local volunteers. The event was generously sponsored by Joy Kirchner, dean of libraries, York University; Carol Shepstone, chief librarian, Ryerson University; and the Association of Research Libraries, and received funding through the Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation at York University.

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