Monday, November 1, 2010

Module IX: TCEs

Like some of my classmates, this week’s material is a completely new area to me. I am still trying to wrap my head around this complex issue.

I agree with Katherine’s post where she quoted the ALA’s FAQs for TCE’s (!), that summed up the crux of the issue. Part of the last sentence, specifically where it states, “…better partnerships between native people and libraries will develop, and aid in the preservation of cultures and cultural materials.” I have to assume that past, and even current partnerships are do not fully epitomize the ALA’s values of diversity and respect to all cultures, while providing unfettered access to TCE’s.

I was a little taken aback by the Deborah Leslie post in which, although she makes a good argument for the input of the SAA and RBM to be included in the TCE statement, her comments about terrorist documents as TCEs were a bit off-putting. Frederick J. made a good point when he wrote, “archivists have a vested stake in the continued preservation of and access to TCEs.” But therein lies a large part of the complexity of the issue. So many organizations, across the country and throughout the world, are working to build a solid set of guidelines that can be used to create and maintain better relationships with indigenous peoples and the ways that their TCEs are accessed across the globe. Unfortunately, a definition of TCEs has not even been agreed upon.

There is one point under the Stewardship section in “Librarianship and Traditional Cultural Expressions: Nurturing Understanding and Respect” document that I love:

“Libraries continue to play an active role in using technology to preserve and provide access to intellectual content. Librarians should, when possible, share this expertise with those communities who choose to preserve and access their own cultural heritage.”

I feel this avenue of sharing knowledge will give native people a better understanding, as well as tangible tools, when they are engaged in preserving their culture and/or working with others (i.e. libraries, museums, archives) to share the beauty of their culture to the world within terms that do not infringe upon their values and privacy.

There is so much more to this issue: the additional problems that come with digitization; copyright law when there is no known author; exploitation and commercial use of TCEs without retribution; and, of course, the ongoing dialogues between WIPO, the ALA, and all of the various representations of organizations working toward “nurturing understanding and respect.”


  1. Diana, I think your post is very insightful and sensitive, and also reflects the complexity of the issues associated with TCEs. Perhaps, there is just no neat, tidy "fix" to bring to consensus the precepts/values of indigenous peoples and those of the library/archive community. Perhaps we cannot (or should not) impose our constraints on others.

    I am encouraged by the work done by the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. Check out The links to Collections and Research and also the Cultural Resources Center do address some of the issues raised in this week's readings. It is a beautiful museum and well worth visiting if ever in DC.

  2. Diana's and Kathy's comments got me thinking about something else: what if the communities do not want help with preserving and accessing their cultural heritage? It's another sticky part of this -- we can't assume that our beliefs and practices in things like "preservation" and "heritage" are the same as every other community. I agree with Kathy that we can't impose upon others; part of this discussion should include being prepared for rejection.