Friday, June 01, 2012

"E99.P85, Or: The Case of Pocahontas in the Library"

Thaddeus Andracki is one of the most outstanding people I came to know at the University of Illinois when I taught there. As an undergrad, he took my Politics of Children's Literature course and is now in Library School there.

Thaddeus publishes a blog called I'll get there. It'll be worth the trip. I like looking at the bookshelf that is the background for his blog. I especially like seeing Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots there. I think it is one of the most important books around.

Yesterday, Thaddeus posted "E99.P85, Or: The Case of Pocahontas in the Library." Read this excerpt, and then go read his entire post. And, then, bookmark or follow his blog. He is a librarian-in-training, but he's already someone we can all learn from.
Disney’s Pocahontas was assigned a main entry of E99.P85. For those who don’t have LoC call numbers memorized (which I’m assuming is most people), E is the broad heading for American History. Numbers in the range around E90 are specifically American Indian History, and E99 is for Biography of American Indians. The P85 specifies further the person the biography is about.

Pocahontas was being classified as a historically accurate documentary.

I’d like to think this was some sort of mistake. But according to OCLC Classify, there are 1242 holdings of this film classified under this call number in libraries that submit data to OCLC. Pocahontas was deliberately assigned a call number such that it could pose as Native history.

I doubt I need to convince you that this film does not accurately represent the history of the woman who was Matoaka, but just in case, here’s a statement from the Powhatan Renape Nation, as well as information from multiple other sources. What I’m concerned about is the carelessness that librarians have taken in curating information about people.


  1. Just talked with a professional cataloger I know, he has changed the OCLC record. Sounds like then it is up to each library to make their own choices and adjustments for what they already have. Libraries with new holdings can use the updated OCLC.

  2. Thanks for reposting some of my thoughts, Debbie. It's good to know that people take my rants seriously.

    And, truly, it is because of what I learned from you that I am able to think about this issue in this kind of depth. I thank you for that as well.

  3. Debbie, according to a colonist named William Strachey, the name Pocahontas means ""little wanton"", and this is what he said: ""Her real name, it seems, was originally Matoax, which the Indians carefully concealed from the English and changed it to Pocahontas, out of a superstitious fear, lest they, by the knowledge of her true name, should be enabled to do her some hurt."". On the other hand, according to an anthropologist named Helen C. Rountree: ""Pocahontas revealed [her secret name] to the English only after she had taken another religious—baptismal—name, which is Rebecca"" - they both have a good point, though.

    Whether Pocahontas is, or is not, Matoaka, one thing's for sure, that her tale has been romanticized over the years. As a matter of fact, places, landmarks, and products in the United States have been named after her. She is a subject of art, literature, and film.



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