Thinking together

The Archives & Special Collections is committed to thinking communally about the best practices related to culturally appropriate engagement with Native American and Indigenous materials. We are particularly concerned about issues regarding classification and cataloging, collection development, preservation, and equity-of-information access initiatives within cultural institutions. We are open to thinking collaboratively with regional partners, Indigenous organizations, and community members on initiatives and interventions into the library and information science field to uplift tribal sovereignty and respect Indigenous ways of knowing. We invite everyone to review the resources and protocols developed by Indigenous communities, librarians, scholars, and organizations who are leading the way.

Culturally sensitive cataloging

We are fully engaged in exploring ways to best represent Indigenous authorship and Indigenous cultures in our library catalog and other systems. One small intervention is the addition of notes identifying authors' tribal affiliations, whenever that information is known. For example, the records for books by Samson Occom (Mohegan) all include the note "Mohegan Indian authors"; searching the catalog for "Mohegan Indian authors" will retrieve all of Occom's books, plus additional works by other Mohegan authors such as Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and Gladys Tantaquidgeon. 

Given the broad sweep of the collection, it also includes several works by non-Indigenous writers falsely claiming Native American ancestry. When such fraudulent claims are clearly documented, we have included this information in the catalog record. When these works are purportedly biographical, we have also added the genre heading "Literary hoaxes" to the records, based on the vocabulary of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (available here). We welcome input from users to assist us with corrections to any aspects of our catalog records. Please send any comments or suggestions to:


Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums:
“ATALM is an international non-profit organization that maintains a network of support for indigenous programs, provides culturally relevant programming and services, encourages collaboration among tribal and non-tribal cultural institutions, and articulates contemporary issues related to developing and sustaining the cultural sovereignty of Native Nations.”

American Indian Library Association:
“AILA was founded in 1979 in conjunction with the White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library and Information Services on or near Reservations. At the time, there was increasing awareness that library services for Native Americans were inadequate. Individuals as well as the government began to organize to remedy the situation. An affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), the American Indian Library Association is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Members are individuals and institutions interested in the development of programs to improve Indian library, cultural, and informational services in school, public, and research libraries on reservations. AILA is also committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and information needs to the library community. AILA cosponsors an annual conference and holds a yearly business meeting in conjunction with the American Library Association annual meeting. It publishes the American Indian Libraries Newsletter twice a year.”

Community + Museum Guidelines for Collaboration:
“The following guidelines were developed over a three-year period of collaboration between Native and non-Native museum professionals, cultural leaders and artists. The guidelines are intended as a resource for community members who are working in collaboration with museums. This is not a set of rules; instead, it offers ideas to consider when working with museums. Your work with a museum might consist of viewing the collections to learn what the museum has from your community; sharing information about items from your community that are part of a museum’s collection; helping to develop museum exhibits; or if you are an artist, you might use a museum’s collections for artistic inspiration. These are just a few of the ways you might engage with a museum. Please note that the guidelines are not intended as a resource for Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) consultations.”

Native Northeast Portal:
“The Native Northeast Portal contains primary source materials by, on, or about Northeast Indians from repositories around the world. Documents are digitized, transcribed, annotated, reviewed by the appropriate contemporary descendant community representatives, and brought together with scholarly annotations and academic/community commentary into one edited interactive digital collection. The Portal currently contains thousands of records associated with scores of Native communities.”

Protocols for Native American Archival Materials:
“The Protocols were developed to provide best practices for culturally responsive care and use of Native American archival and documentary material held by non-tribal organizations. The Protocols build upon numerous professional ethical codes; a number of significant international declarations recognizing Indigenous rights, including several now issued by the United Nations; and the ground-breaking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services. The proposed standards and goals articulated in Protocols for Native American Archival Materials are meant to inspire and to foster mutual respect and reciprocity. The Protocols include recommendations for non-tribal libraries and archives as well as Native American communities.” (

Protocols for the Treatment of Indigenous Materials (American Philosophical Society):
“These Protocols are a result of discussions of the American Philosophical Society Library (hereinafter “APS”) and its Native American Advisory Board regarding indigenous materials held by APS, some of which are culturally sensitive. The Protocols are intended to: 1) give APS guidance in determining what indigenous materials might be culturally sensitive, in categorizing materials as culturally sensitive, and in determining who can decide whether culturally sensitive materials can be reproduced: 2) to allow APS to enter into understandings and agreements with tribes and donors on the treatment of indigenous materials; and 3) give APS guidance in assisting tribes in publishing materials.”