Cataloging Indigenous Resources: Alternatives to Dewey

Cataloguing Indigenous Resources

Dewey unveiled his cataloguing system in 1876 and although it has seen many modifications over the years it still reflects the influences of it’s designer in a number of areas.

The ‘correct’ placement of resources that support the layering of Aboriginal content in our new B.C. curriculum appeared limiting and somewhat divisive. In short, I would struggle to direct an Aboriginal student, curious about their living culture, to the 971 history section, sandwiched and segregated, somewhere between World War II and the Aztecs. Optics matter.

Despite my efforts at sorting and labelling, placing Indigenous Creation Stories next to Little Red Riding Hood in 398.2 Folklore and Fairytales seemed equally as jarring.

After consultation with Surrey colleagues Kim Perry; Teacher, Lynne Powell; Helping Teacher, Lise Tilden; Aboriginal Education, and helpful direction from Heidi Wood; Aboriginal Helping Teacher, I rearranged and re-catalogued to reflect what seems to be more respectful placements whilst still preserving the integrity of a workable comprehensive library.

Here are the highlights:

Creation Stories

These are considered to be non-fiction. When I am asked for a Space unit, I am pulling How the Raven Stole the Sun as well, so 523.7 is a logical choice. Similarly, How The Robin got it’s Red Breast goes in the bird section, Cloudwalker on the environment shelf, Mayuk with the bears.

Elder Stories

Includes stories that reflect true events or story of an Elder or the author. I have included here traditional stories as well as more contemporary works. The contemporary First Nations titles pictured below were designated Dewey 970 History of North America. I have placed them in Courage 179 and Wisdom 170.


Stories that are for entertainment or a teaching have been placed in Fiction. Some of the Txamsen Stories for example. However, some of these were not in a format or reading level that would work at our school in the picture book section. They are now in 813 Fiction.

 The labels are not ideal but they are easily identifiable. Titles that are not First Nations but are Metis or Inuit have a solid red label. Students are able to find these at a glance. Eventually,  I will have these labels only on authentic Aboriginal texts. I am still working through these.

The 970s

The biggest shift was the exodus out of the history section and involved moving all the non-fiction two shelves over. It seemed to me that even a book delineated as describing past traditions was, in fact, describing current traditions. It wasn’t history. I evaluated every book, weeded a few, and placed the rest in 305.897.

The 305s  – my favourite section – ‘Groups of People’ – the section we all fit in, in one way or another.

I am sure as we use this system, it will morph and evolve, resulting in an organization that perhaps more accurately reflects the community the collection serves.

Updated April 3rd ’18.

Notes on some of new Strong Nations titles:

  • The Great Blanket of Moss – Aleck. Moved from 398.2 to 582.16 Trees
  • Why Ravens and Wolves Hunt Together – Aleck. Moved from 398.2 to 599.773 Wolves
  • Raven Returns the Daylight – Helin. Moved from 398.2 to 523.7 Sun
  • The Sun and the Moon – Aleck. Moved from 398.2 to 523.7 Sun
  • Sky Woman – Corneau. Moved from 398.2 to 551 Geology
  • The Great Trade – Aleck. Moved from 398.2 to 598 Birds
  • Tlingit Storytellers – Helin. Moved from 970.004 to 808.5 Storytelling
  • The Woodpecker – Corneau. Moved from Easy to 598.72 Woodpeckers
  • The Game – Corneau. Moved from Easy to 796.34 Lacrosse
  • Spirit Bear – Helin. Moved from Easy to 599.78 Bears
  • Cedar The Tree of Life – Boreham. Moved from 971.004 to 585 Conifers