The University of Winnipeg



Library project celebrates UN Year of Indigenous languages

UWinnipeg student, Elmer Gilbert Clarke logged 245 volumes, and pored through hundreds more, in a project designed to make Indigenous linguistic knowledge more accessible for future researchers. ©UWinnipeg

Indigenous studies and history student, Elmer Gilbert Clarke, spent his summer poring over books in UWinnipeg’s library, searching through texts for Ojibwa, Cree and Michif, and other Indigenous languages, as part of an Indigenous Summer Scholar project recognizing 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.

“Elmer’s work is foundational in that it will enhance the visibility of the University’s Indigenous resources, and creates a springboard for future work to be done in this area,” said Josh Herter, UWinnipeg assessment and communications librarian.

Clarke worked closely with Michael Dudley, UWinnipeg’s community outreach librarian, to identify and describe Indigenous language and linguistic content in the library’s E99 Tribes and Cultures collection, as well as studying selections from rare books in The University of Winnipeg Archives.

“Because much of this content is not currently described in the library catalogue, an interested researcher or student would have no idea that it is there,” said Dudley. “By making it accessible through enhanced cataloguing, we hope to correct this barrier and help contribute to Indigenous language revitalization.”

Metadata and Discovery Librarian, Jaime Orr, will be using Clarke’s research to expand the library’s metadata. ©UWinnipeg

Over the course of nine weeks, Clarke pored over hundreds of books, recording extensive information for 245 volumes, capturing approximately 14 per cent of the targeted collection in a spreadsheet designed to make Indigenous language materials more accessible to future researchers.

It was a learning experience for Clarke, as he discovered far more Indigenous languages than he’d previously been aware of. It really opened his eyes to how much work needs to be done to categorize language in a way that goes beyond settler-given names and terminology traditionally found within library systems.

Documenting individual dialects and pictographs found in the library’s collection involved identifying appropriate descriptions specific to each language group, alongside already existing subject headings defined within the Library of Congress system. While this information will soon be accessible,  there is still much work to be done before the full variety of languages and dialects are accessible globally on the WorldCaT catalogue, the world’s largest library catalogue. 

With this information now in the hands of Metadata and Discovery Librarian, Jaime Orr and her colleague, Susan Ronquillo, UWinnipeg’s local records will soon reflect the presence of this valuable content.

“Adding detailed subject headings and notes makes this information keyword searchable and highlights Indigenous language content for researchers using our library,” said Orr. “This project represents one piece of what needs to be done to decolonize our collection, but it’s an important piece.”  

The United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages to help preserve Indigenous languages and safeguard the rights of those who speak them. Visit the library’s Indigenous Language Research Guide for an overview of the library’s books and databases related to the documentation, preservation, teaching, and revitalization of Indigenous languages, including external resources, reports and online tools.   

Learn more about UWinnipeg’s Indigenous Summer Scholars Program.

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