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UBC’s X̱wi7x̱wa Library Decolonizes Library Practices

Systemic biases related to colonization continue to reside in Western library and archival collections and services. Materials and programs about Indigenous communities are often not prioritized and organizational systems are contrary to Indigenous ways of conducting research.

Sandy Littletree, an Indigenous librarian and scholar, remembers being unable as an undergraduate to find books about adult literacy that focused on Native American education. Later, when she was in graduate school, Littletree realized that Library of Congress subject headings were part of the problem. Mainstream subject headings and classification systems “are not really designed with our language and our behavior for research,” Littletree said. Rather than using mainstream systems of organization that might historicize Indigenous topics or use inaccurate labels, libraries can consider other ways of organizing and labeling materials, such as arranging materials geographically, or using Indigenous languages and specific names of First Nations communities.

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X̱wi7x̱wa Library, The University of British Columbia, image CC-BY-ND-NC by UBC Library

X̱wi7x̱wa Library at The University of British Columbia (UBC), the only Indigenous branch of an academic library in Canada, is a center for academic and community Indigenous scholarship that aims to counter colonial bias. X̱wi7x̱wa, pronounced whei-wha, means “echo” in the Squamish language, and the library’s collections, services, and spaces reflect Indigenous approaches to knowledge. The building’s unique architecture represents an Interior Salish kekuli. X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s Indigenous classification system and subject headings were developed with a focus on Indigenous perspectives. Material is arranged in a way that aligns with Indigenous knowledge organizational concepts, and is described using a vocabulary that more specifically, accurately, and respectfully surfaces Indigenous scholarship.

The X̱wi7x̱wa Library not only makes research easier for Indigenous scholars, it teaches non-Indigenous scholars about Indigenous ways of seeing. “The more ways you look at things, the more understanding you have,” said Adolfo Tarango, acting head of X̱wi7x̱wa Library. “I think that’s a really promising thing for non-Indigenous communities as well as Indigenous ones.”