Friday, October 29, 2010

Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE) in Libraries and Cultural Heritage Institutions

I found myself approaching this week’s readings with a mix of cautious optimism and weary cynicism. On one hand it’s encouraging that the ALA is establishing policies to deal with the handling of TCEs, and that they’re seeking the input of indigenous populations in formulating those policies. On the other hand, it’s somewhat discouraging in that the discussion seems to revolve around concepts like copyright and intellectual property, things that have no real meaning within indigenous cultures, and various efforts to apply those concepts to TCEs. On some level, I feel as if I’m reading a discussion of how to define and legally appropriate indigenous culture in a more respectful manner than the course of world history has previously demonstrated. To put it in a more potentially incendiary way, this seems to be a matter of debate by and for white intellectuals. That might be a bit unfair, because there seems to have been some positive progress made so far and there may be more to come as policies are shaped and revised. Libraries, museums and archives can play an important role in preserving TCEs and providing access to them.

I particularly liked the comment that came at the tail end of the OITP conference video from Jennifer O’Neal, Head Archivist at The National Museum of The American Indian, who pointed out the importance of communication and collaboration between indigenous communities and museums, libraries and archives as a means of ensuring that TCEs are properly cared for. As the ALA TCE FAQ noted in question 10, ALA cannot speak for indigenous people. Collaboration between The American Indian Library Association and ALA’s Native, Rural and Tribal Libraries Committee, and the ALA Diversity Council and committees has played a central role in drafting and revising the ALA TCE statement, as it should.

I was a little confused by the Deborah Leslie ArchivesNext post, mainly because I don’t think I understand the interagency politics that seem to provide its subtext. About midway through, she cites some disagreements over the inadequate definition of “traditional cultural expression” and “traditional knowledge” and then goes on to question whether or not the unpublished writings of terrorists could be considered TCEs. Is she suggesting that there exists a population for which terrorism is a form of cultural knowledge and/or expression? Also, she doesn’t really offer any hint as to what a more adequate definition of “traditional cultural expression” might be. Her main point, so far as I can tell, seems to be asking the ALA to address the issue of SAA/RBMS’s lack of inclusion in the process of drafting the current TCE statement. It seems to be a perfectly valid point. Archivists have a vested stake in the continued preservation of and access to TCEs. They should have a say in the adoption of TCE policies.

No comments:

Post a Comment