Collecting, Documenting and Preserving the Oral, Visual and Written Production and Application of Indigenous Knowledge (2014)

Monday, May 20, 2013, 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Moderator:      Irene Münster, University of Maryland, Shady Grove

Rapporteur:     Sarah Yoder Leroy, University of Pittsburgh


  • Contemporary Indigenous Scholarly and Cultural Dialog: A View from Latin American Serial Publications — Ruby Gutierrez, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Latin American University and Anthropological Libraries and Issues Related to Documenting the History, Cultures and Languages of Latin American Indians: Some Common Problems and Recommendations for Possible Solutions — Wendy Griffin, Formerly Universidad Pedagógica Nacional Francisco Morazán
  • Community, Relationship and Exchange – We (Librarians) Have It All! — Rachael Shea, COPACE, Clark University

After Irene Münster welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers, Ruby Gutierrez described 29 indigenous journals from Mexico, Central America, and South America.  The journals fall into four broad categories: academic journals, those from indigenous organizations or institutions, journals from indigenous groups, and cultural journals.  She began with an overview of the characteristics of these journals.  They are all in Spanish (or Portuguese if from Brazil) rather than indigenous languages.  Some are in print and some electronic, and the electronic ones are often in non-standard formats.  With the electronic journals, past issues might not be accessible.  Frequency varies, and a journal’s online presence is frequently not up to date, so when a journal no longer appears on a web site, it isn’t clear whether it still exists or not.  Ruby spent most of her time discussing examples of academic indigenous journals.  These started appearing when indigenous groups created their own intercultural universities, or in some countries, departments within existing universities.  They cover four main subject areas:  education, culture (including linguistics and language), sustainable tourism, and sustainable development.  She also spoke briefly of journals from indigenous organizations and groups (which cover a wide variety of subjects), showing examples from various countries.  She finished with a few examples of cultural journals. A primary concern regarding indigenous journals is preservation, especially of e-journals. These journals are not the sort that will become part of Redalyc or Scielo.  They are available now, but unless someone is willing to preserve them, they may disappear in a few years.

Wendy Griffin followed and speaking from her experience in Honduras, she discussed problems which persist for those researching Latin American indians.  She pointed out that research on indians has always been problematic, since tribes have almost always changed their names and the spelling of their names over the years, a problem when one is searching for information about a particular group.  These groups have often been written about in a language other than the language of the country where they live.  This is a particular problem with older books, many of which have not been translated from the original language, or made available in the area or even the country being studied.  A lot of the archaeology from these groups is in foreign museums where the collections remain un-digitized.  Wendy suggested that web pages documenting indigenous groups be held jointly by universities in the country and abroad, and that there be coordination of terms used referring to particular indigenous groups.  While finding documents is a major problem, another is the dissemination and preservation of research that is being done.  Her particular research interest is Honduras, and she finds that materials produced in Honduras are not getting to the U.S. and in some cases are not even being published.  No one is collecting manuscripts and unpublished books.  There is more available on the internet than in print (material which can be lost when a site is no longer maintained).  Non-print materials such as videos (many available on YouTube), oral history, television shows, and CDs exist, but aren’t being preserved in Honduran universities, so a wealth of information is in danger of being lost.

Rachel Shea began by speaking of being alive and well today thanks to a Huichol shaman.  She has studied Plant Spirit Medicine, and spent 12 years pilgrimaging in the Huichol tradition to a sacred site in Mexico.  During that time she had to unlearn how she viewed the world, and to learn in a new way.  What she hopes to bring to us is a way of engaging indigenous thought and action in the post-modern world in terms of libraries.  She firmly believes that significant information from indigenous cultures will be saved by the gods, elders, and shamans, when and how they see fit.  The question then becomes the purpose for our engagement with indigenous thought, if libraries are not needed for the preservation of this information.  Rachel believes that librarians operate more similarly to an indigenous culture than any other well established group in Western culture.  The basic tenets of indigenous cultures are community, exchange, and relationship.  Librarians are accomplished at all three, and we librarians understand and work within the framework of these values.  We all use the same cataloging system, but all have different collections and ways to display our collections that represent our library community.  We form community with our users, and pay attention to what they are searching for.  We engage in an exchange with them (for example, in a reference interview) to determine and understand what they need, and to find out where in the spectrum of what we know this need fits, continuing until we find the answer.  We are all about relationships--we form relationships with our users, with each other, and with the technologies we use.  In cataloging, subject headings and call numbers form a relationship when describing an item.  We have what it takes to form a viable community.  When things get difficult and fall apart, librarians have the tools we need to save our people.  She recommended that we read Information ecologies, by Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day.

There were no questions