Decolonizing Canadian university libraries:

Determining progress

Dan Scott <>

Doctoral student, McGill University



  • Canadian libraries have a moral obligation to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

But we don't know:

  • How much progress has been made
  • What factors support or inhibit progress
  • How to measure progress

Why now?

  • Globally: UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Nationally: Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
  • Libraries: CFLA-FLAB TRC Committee (TRCC) Report and Recommendations
  • And also: 2019 is the UN Year of Indigenous Languages

CFLA TRCC Recommendation #5

Decolonize Access and Classification [...] by committing to integrating Indigenous epistemologies into cataloguing praxis and knowledge management

CFLA TRCC Recommendation #6

Decolonize Libraries and Space by [...] supporting Indigenous cultures, languages and knowledges through [...] signage, art installations, territorial acknowledgements [...] in collaboration with local Indigenous stakeholders

"enemy language"

To the extent that KOS fail to make Indigenous materials visible, they undermine Indigenous approaches and Indigenous knowledge, and contribute to reproducing inaccurate and partial histories at local and national levels that exclude Indigenous accounts in the dominant narratives of Canada.
Doyle, 2013

Serial mixed methods approach

Websites: international students

  • University websites increasingly support multiple languages (Callahan & Herring, 2012)
  • Libraries should publish research guides in languages of international students (Albarillo, 2018)
  • Students want multilingual search options in library catalogue and databases (Nzomo, Rubin, & Ajiferuke, 2012)
  • Students acquire vocabulary when they use thesauri and descriptor research tools (Bordonaro, 2010)


  • If university libraries can support international students, they can support local Indigenous populations

Website as library space

  • Inclusive definition of "website":
    • Online chat
    • Catalogue
    • Databases
    • Institutional repository
    • Research guides
    • Digital exhibits
    • Library blog posts or news
    • University home page

Research questions

  • RQ1(a) How much progress have Canadian university libraries made towards decolonizing their website-as-space by supporting local Indigenous cultures, languages, and knowledges?
  • RQ1(b) What factors have influenced the progress of Canadian university libraries towards decolonizing their website-as-space?

Data collection methods

  1. Website content analysis (sample: all Canadian university libraries)
  2. Gather descriptive statistics (sample: all Canadian university libraries)
  3. Identify institutions for semi-structured interviews
  4. Analyze results together to identify factors that determine progress

Website content analysis

  • Websites as proxies for organization (Ching-Hsun and Yu-Shan, 2013; Lee and Joseph, 2013)
    • Lower barriers to change
    • Reflects aspirational organizational values

Checklist evaluation of websites

  • Based on checklist website usability evaluation (Gottfried, 2010; Lopez et al, 2010; Faulkner, 2018)
  • Provides more guidance than an open-ended content analysis

Checklist evaluation of websites

  • Translations
  • Territorial acknowledgements
  • Traditional knowledge labels
  • Indigenous services
  • Indigenous librarian or staff
  • Indigenous content (special collections, research guides)
  • Indigenous search and navigation

Gather descriptive statistics

  • Course or program offerings in Indigenous/Native/Aboriginal Studies
  • Financials from CAUBO:
    • Overall budget
    • % allocated to library services
    • % allocated to library collection
  • # of enrolled students (headcount and FTE)
  • Indigenous population near campus

Semi-structured interviews

  • Based on website content analysis, identify 3 to 5 institutions for semi-structured interviews
  • Start with University Librarian and "snowball" to find other interviewees
  • Explore efforts towards decolonizing university library website
  • Explore efforts towards decolonizing university library physical space and services
  • Hurdles overcome, motivations, sources of support, ongoing challenges, current efforts, next steps

Rigour and reliability

  • Pilot of website content analysis
  • Intercoder reliability rating for website content analysis and interview coding
  • Website snapshots archived to allow replicability and re-analysis
  • Member checking: transcriptions, derived conclusions
  • Triangulation of data collection methods

Analysis and synthesis

  • Generate progress scores from website analysis
  • Check for correlation between institutional statistics and scores
  • Constant comparative analysis for interview coding
  • Build conceptual model from factors identified in synthesis of methods
Serial design = publishing in stages
Interviews = rich dataTimeliness of interview results
Triangulation for trustworthinessLengthy process
Intercoder reliability = rigourRequires a team
Offers an instrument for measuring progressWill miss privileged access areas

Quantitative approach

Decolonizing access and description

  • Discarding literary warrant
  • Dropping the pretense of neutrality
  • Replacing headings that marginalize oppressed communities (e.g. "Indians of North America", "Huron mythology") (Doyle et al., 2015; Lee, 2011; Olson, 2000)

Example: Xwi7wa library (UBC)

  • Pairs a preferred Indigneous term with a parenthetical colonial term: “Stl’atl’imx (Lillooet)” supporting multilingual access and vocabulary acquisition
  • Limitations imposed by cataloguing standards and their implementations
  • (Doyle, Lawson, & Dupont, 2015)

Decolonizing classification

  • Example: Brian Deer Classification scheme collocates materials by proximity to Indigenous communities in geographical order
  • Variations adopted by Xwi7wa library, Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, National Film Board
  • (Doyle et al., 2015; Bosum and Dunne, 2017; White, 2018)

Research questions

  • RQ2(a) How much progress have Canadian university libraries made towards decolonizing access and classification?
  • RQ2(b) What factors have influenced the progress of Canadian university libraries towards decolonizing access and classification?

Data collection method: survey

  • Sample: all Canadian university libraries
  • Target contact: University librarian / library director
  • Structure: checklist for progress with brief descriptions and supporting URLs where feasible; short answer section identifying motivation and hurdles

Rigour and reliability

  • Pilot survey and iterate
  • Intercoder reliability rating for short answer coding
  • Verify a subset of responses with provided URLs


  • Generate progress scores from survey responses
  • Code short answers to determine common factors
  • Check for correlations between progress scores and identified factors
Offers an instrument for measuring progressIndigenous people may not have a voice
ExpedientLack of triangulation
Covers areas requiring physical or privileged accessSelf-reporting may inflate progress
Common factors will be strongCorrelations will be weak

Working towards knowing

  • How much progress has been made
  • What factors support or inhibit progress
  • How to measure progress

References (1)

Albarillo, F. (2018). Information Code-Switching: A Study of Language Preferences in Academic Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 79(5), 624–644.
Bordonaro, K. (2010). Is Library Database Searching a Language Learning Activity? College & Research Libraries, 71(3), 273–284.
Bosum, A., & Dunne, A. (2017). Implementing the Brian Deer Classification Scheme for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute. Collection Management, 42(3–4), 280–293.
Callahan, E., & Herring, S. C. (2012). Language Choice on University Websites: Longitudinal Trends. International Journal of Communication, 6, 322–355.
CFLA - FCAB Truth & Reconciliation Committee. (2017). Truth and Reconciliation Report and Recommendations. Retrieved from
Chang, C.-H., & Chen, Y.-S. (2013). Green organizational identity and green innovation | Management Decision | Vol 51, No 5. Management Decision, 51(5), 1056–1070.
Doyle, Ann M., Lawson, K., & Dupont, S. (2015). Indigenization of Knowledge Organization at the Xwi7xwa Library. Journal of Library and Information Studies - 圖書資訊學刊, 13(2), 107–134.
Doyle, Ann Mary. (2013). Naming, claiming, and (re)creating : Indigenous knowledge organization at the cultural interface. University of British Columbia.
Faulkner, A. E. (2018). Entrepreneurship resources in US public libraries: website analysis. Reference Services Review, 46(1), 69–90.

References (2)

Gottfried, J. C. (2010). Access to Business Research Resources Through Academic Library Websites: A Survey. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 16(1), 1–32.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. (2017, August 3). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from
Lee, D. (2011). Indigenous Knowledge Organization: A Study of Concepts, Terminology, Structure and (Mostly) Indigenous Voices. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library & Information Practice & Research, 6(1), 1–33.
Lee, R. L., & Joseph, R. C. (2013). An examination of web disclosure and organizational transparency. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2218–2224.
López, X., Margapoti, I., Maragliano, R., & Bove, G. (2010). The presence of Web 2.0 tools on museum websites: a comparative study between England, France, Spain, Italy, and the USA. Museum Management and Curatorship, 25(2), 235–249.
Nzomo, P., Rubin, V. L., & Ajiferuke, I. (2012). Multi-lingual Information Access Tools: User Survey. In Proceedings of the 2012 iConference (pp. 530–532). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
Olson, H. A. (2000). Difference, culture and change: the untapped potential of LCSH. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 29(1/2), 53–71.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Retrieved from
White, H. (2018). Decolonizing the Way Libraries Organize. Presented at the IFLA WLIC 2018 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Transform Libraries, Transform Societies, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Retrieved from