In August 2013, the Archives & Special Collections of Amherst College purchased the private collection of Pablo Eisenberg of nearly 1,500 books written by Native American authors. Our special collections catalogers quickly bumped up against the limits of U.S. library cataloging rules; for instance, the official LC subject heading is “Iroquois Indians” rather than “Haudenosaunee,” while Mohawk authors from Canada are classed in the PR 9100 call number range and Mohawks from the US side of the border are scattered throughout the PS range. It was clear from the start that this collection would require an additional effort to accurately and ethically represent the authors, their tribal affiliations, and their works within the cataloging structures established by the Library of Congress. Through close collaboration with faculty and students in the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies program, as well as tribal historians and other community members around New England, we began to explore ways to represent the collection that went beyond the bounds of traditional cataloging.

One idea that emerged from these conversations was a data visualization project that would locate the books and writers in this collection on a map and provide chronological browsing through a timeline. The working title for this project was initially the Digital Atlas of the Native American Book. In an effort to suggest a broader scope than merely printed books, that title was revised to The Digital Atlas of Native American Intellectual Traditions (DANAIT); that title is likely to change again as the project evolves.

The Amherst College library also has a very active digitization program that focuses on providing free and open access to as many of our archival resources as possible. As we realized the rarity of some of the books in the collection, we wanted to explore ways to make them available online. At the same time, we recognized that even works in the public domain under U.S. copyright law could contain information that contemporary Indigenous communities might not want widely disseminated.

Rather than attempting to tackle these issues in isolation, we sought a planning grant to bring together a wide range of librarians, Native studies scholars, tribal members, and technologists. The result of our efforts was a successful application for an IMLS National Leadership for Libraries Planning Grant under their National Digital Platform initiative. Amherst College partnered with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM), the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and the Mukurtu project and was awarded $49,765.

A Steering Committee was established to identify potential participants; the first half of 2016 was spent organizing the meeting hosted at Amherst College June 22 – 24. A total of 29 participants from as far away as Hawaii, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest worked together to produce the following statement of need, vision, and principles.

Need

  • There is a history of Native American writing, speaking, and public engagement that is not broadly known.
  • Collections of such materials exist, but may not be available online; when they are, they are not well-linked to each other, and they may be presented without appropriate contextualization.
  • Many of these collections are held by institutions that use systems of cataloging and access that reflect Western, colonial systems of information organization and terminology.
  • The existing state creates barriers to discovery and use by the very communities these Native American authors and intellectuals are from (and to other users as well).
  • The existing state creates barriers to collecting institutions wanting to increase access to these materials in respectful and reciprocal ways.

Problem

  • Current library metadata practices often obscure indigenous identity and tribal sovereignty.
  • Published materials in the public domain under US Copyright law may contain information that tribal members do not want publicly available.
  • Researchers approaching Native Studies through colonial libraries and archives are often unaware of how to engage with Native communities.
  • Librarians and archivists collecting these materials may be unaware of existing ethics and protocols, or in need of additional guidance.
  • Vast amounts of material held by small tribal libraries may be difficult to discover and link to related holdings in colonial repositories.
  • Most existing metadata schemas and systems for digital collections do not have the capacity to address these issues.

Solution

  • Networks, both human and technological, can provide a solution.
  • This project will develop a decentralized organizational and technological network of collections of Native American writing and other statements intended for the public sphere.
  • These networks will be built slowly, over time, and with broad consultation and collaboration; the value of building this as a network is that each node can contribute at its own pace, and partners can be added over time. Developing a network also builds in sustainability, as no single node is responsible for the entire network.

Vision

  • The organizational network will:
    • Establish and build relationships among partners and with potential partners.
    • Establish and document the ethics, protocols, and responsibilities for members of the network, drawing upon existing community-based guidelines and best practices wherever possible.
    • Create a staging plan for building the project over time that incorporates ongoing assessment and adaptation.
    • Build sustainability by documenting policies, procedures, responsibilities, and standards (new partners can be added on, and others could use this as a model for other work, or to carry on the project).
    • Develop a standards-based, well-documented system so that people can get ready to participate in advance, and know what they will need to do to be able to participate.
  • The technological network will connect the partners’ digital collections and allows users to easily:
    • Discover materials from multiple collections.
    • Search and browse digital collections by tribal affiliation, geographic location, dates, author names, subjects, keywords, and other data.
    • Explore the collections through maps, timelines, and other visualizations that provide another means for browsing the materials while also revealing patterns and relationships across time and space.
    • Discover and follow linkages between and among works, beginning with the multiple participants in any single work (authors, editors, illustrators, publishers, etc.) then moving outward to include social networks among people, groups, organizations, and places that relate to those works.
    • Get contextual information about authors, tribal communities, publishers, etc.,
    • Explore Indigenous epistemologies and non-colonial structures and methods for preserving and sharing knowledge
    • Add information about a work, an author, or other content in the collection.

Scope

  • United States and Canada as currently defined.
  • Writings, speeches, petitions, and other statements by Indigenous people intended for a public audience. The project will begin by focusing on printed books (also including newspapers, magazines, pamphlets); Future phases will explore means of incorporating other media (theatre, film, sound recordings, video games) as well as archival materials such as authors’ correspondence and personal papers.
  • 1772-present. The earliest printed books entirely by Native writers date from 1772: Samson Occom’s A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul and Joseph Johnson, Jr.’s Letter from J—-h J—–n, One of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians, to His Countryman. The chronological scope can be extended further back in time through treaty literature and petitions in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Our Approach

This project will use Indigenizing methodologies, while also recognizing that adaptable models for some of this work exist in both Indigenous communities and the broader cultural heritage community. As such, the project will:

  • visualize Indigenous networks in digital space and model those networks in the ways the project is built and conducted.
  • use Indigenizing methodologies, and promote awareness, understanding, and use of Indigenizing methodologies and Indigenous knowledge in the broader cultural heritage community, engendering an exchange of knowledge and ideas.
  • foster connections/relationships to tribal communities, recognizing in particular the individuality and sovereignty of each Nation.
  • be consultative and reciprocal.
  • help users and participants connect past, present, and future.
  • be collaborative, accessible, and accountable to users, creators, and creating communities.
  • be a multi-institutional collaboration, where participating institutions follow agreed-upon ethics, protocols, and responsibilities.
  • document its work and be transparent so that others can learn from and build on it, making our work one possible model for similar collaborations and projects.
  • be staged over time.
  • work toward sustainability from early planning stages through implementation and continued growth.

Mission

Combine traditional library practice with decolonizing and Indigenous methodologies to

  1. expose the existence of more than 200 years of Native writing and publishing
  2. demonstrate the utility and value of these methodologies to connect users to collections in new ways
  3. maximize relationships/relationality to surface and contextualize materials in ethical ways

Immediate Goals & Objectives

  • Continue relationship building, including having more face to face gatherings and establishing an Advisory Board
  • Attend international conferences and meetings to share information about the project and solicit feedback/input and identify potential partners
  • Document and disseminate project results, next steps, and future plans
  • Identify and create local models/prototypes for collaborative digitization and content development
  • Identify and pursue additional sources of funding (grants, etc.)

Long Term Goals

  • Document responsibilities of participating institutions
  • Establish policies, protocols, and procedures
  • Develop vocabularies and approaches to metadata that use Native terminology and incorporate Indigenous approaches to knowledge
  • Use Indigenizing methodologies to design a technological system and produce system requirements
  • Implement the policies, protocols, and procedures; metadata vocabularies and approaches, and technological system
  • Create sustainability plan