Recently, Canada has made global headlines for their attempt to decolonize their libraries and work with educational institutions in partnership for public access. In the past, libraries were havens for collections of books to be shared with all users, but the problem became deciding which titles were acceptable and which were against the standards of whoever was in charge of setting the policies.
Banned books, for instance, are those in which something about the content offends the righteous beliefs of those who determine what is acceptable for public consumption of knowledge. Topics that were considered to be immoral or controversial could result in the book being denied as part of the library’s domain to be lent to readers.
The decolonization of libraries and archives is intended to diminish or eliminate this problem. Colonialism over decades has resulted in a slow fade of the history of Indigenous people and minorities from the annals of public libraries. The expectations of the library institution itself, as well as the personal perspective of librarians who choose which books to purchase and display, has played a large part in this colonization. Now, policymakers, library institutions, and higher education facilities have come together to effectively decolonize libraries and make them more accessible to all knowledge-seekers.
Decolonization: The Consequences for Other Countries
Canada is not the only country where libraries have gradually edged out minorities in favor of the majority and history’s simple pathway of retelling. But it is the first country to admit to the problem and seek appropriate avenues to come to a successful resolution for all.
The idea of decolonization is to reconcile the differences that set people apart and bring them together instead. When cultural stories are available in libraries for everyone to read, it helps foster a better understanding of others and encourages people to appreciate those unique attributes instead of using them as disparities to increase the gap between individuals and their heritages.
To do this, countries must be willing to admit that policies they’ve followed were wrong. They must be able to acknowledge the ignorance in their societies and the stereotypes passed down from colonialization itself and the idea that the colonial way is the “better way. Leaders of countries must be willing to humble themselves to admit that they need to learn more, educate themselves, more, and be more respectful to beliefs, values, and concerns of different communities in their midst. In short, they must become human again instead of colonial.
Challenges of Decolonialization
As Canada is realizing, decolonizing a library is not a matter of holding a meeting, getting a majority vote, and passing policies. It’s a unanimous proposition that requires everyone to be on board with it in order for the philosophy of acceptance to spread.
This is not the first time the idea of decolonization of libraries and archives has been introduced. But the challenges to this process have created roadblocks in the past.
Part of the problem is that the action itself is mired in feelings of identity. When one culture feels strongly about their heritage, they can also feel violated when something like decolonization tries to infringe and change what they have accepted as truth for so long.
The books can be available to everyone, but not everyone will choose to read them, learn, understand, and accept the differences. Each person is conditioned to believe certain stereotypes and develop certain biases over their lifetime, through experience and environment, and because these are ingrained in their psyches so deeply, it can be hard to get them to accept anything that contradicts how they think.
Benefits of Decolonization
Through institutional training of library staff and university faculty, the target goal of obtaining inclusivity for everyone can be met. When those who work in a crucial sector of academics are exposed to activities and lessons that increase cultural awareness, they can share it with others naturally.
Decolonizing archives will not be an overnight process, but when those who are tasked with the challenge have a passion for and an understanding of the importance, they approach it with a better mindset. As the books are added and adjusted, staff and faculty can look for those that represent Indigenous people, their cultures, and the communities in the past and present.
As decolonization improves, mutual and shared respect for all cultures will increase and extend to the community.
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