Monday, August 20, 2012


Bruce Grant's Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian was first published in 1958 as American Indians, Yesterday and Today. 

I'm reading a 2000 edition, "published by Wing Books, an imprint of Random House Value Publishing, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, by arrangement with E. P. Dutton, an imprint of Viking Penguin USA." The copy I have is from the juvenile nonfiction section of the local public library.

If you've got Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian in your library, it can be deselected on the basis of outdated content.

Believe it or not, the appendix "Indian Population on Reservation in the United States" includes a "Distribution of Indian Tribes by States" that is based on the census of 1950. Some of the figures are from "the World Almanac and Book of Facts for 1959" (bold mine).

In the "Books to read if you want to know more" section, there are over 30 fiction and nonfiction books, ranging in publication year from 1928 to 1957.

I'm actually shocked that it has been published so many times without an update to the appendices! 

Bias and misinformation characterize the entries. Here's some examples:

  • "BIG HEART," Grant tells us, is "Indian term for 'brave. Indians spoke of 'keeping their hearts big' and having no fear" (p. 43). 
  • The entry for "COUNTING" reads: "The system of tens generally was used by Indians in counting. The white man calls this the decimal system. The Indians called it the finger and hand count."
  • Christopher Columbus has an entry, wherein Grant tells us that Columbus discovered America.
  • There is a "DIGGERS" entry, in which Grant writes "These Indians were reported to be very dirty and ill clothed and were considered the lowest form of Indian life" (p. 110). 
  • "FIRE WATER" is the "Indian name for distilled spirits" (p. 128). 
  • "HOW" is "Word of greeting used by Indians, who had no expressions for 'good morning,' 'good day,' or 'good evening.' (p. 154)
  • Of the Pueblo Indians, Grant writes that "they have become famous because of their peculiar customs and ceremonies, for instance, such a custom of men instead of women working in the fields" (p. 257).

A far better choice is the five-volume American Indian Contributions to the World by Keoke and Porterfield. As of today (August 20, 2012), it is available from Oyate for $175. 

Update: Aug 20, 2012, 3:15 PM Central Time

Several librarians wrote to ask me for citations to deselection criteria. Here is some:

Evans and Saponaro (2005) write that the top five reasons for weeding are: 1) accuracy and currency of the information, 2) physical condition of the book, 3) space needs, 4) usage history, and 5) duplicate copy. Disher (2007) lists the following criteria: condition, use, misleading or inaccurate, superceded, duplication, trivial and irrelevant, space, and, balance. The CREW manual advises that “for all items” (p. 16) problem categories are poor content, poor appearance, and unused materials. Similar guidelines are contained in the MUSTIE mnemonic, wherein the M stands for “Misleading information,” and the S stands for “Superceded by better works” (Dickinson, 2005).  

Criteria that applies to the encyclopedia are:
  • Evans & Saponaro's #1 (accuracy and currency of the information)
  • Disher's "misleading or inaccurate,"
  • CREW's "poor content"
  • MUSTIE's "misleading information." 
Disher and MUSTIE also note "superceded." The encyclopedia is easily superceded by the Keoke and Porterfield set.

Dickinson, G. (2005). Crying over spilled milk. Library Media Connection 23(7), 24-26.

Disher, W. (2007). Crash Course in Collection Development. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Evans, G. E. & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005). Developing Library and Information Center Collections. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Larson, J. (2008). Crew: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries. Austin, TX: Texas State Library and Archives Commission.


jpm said...

Well, this has been a day of being appalled at things people in influential positions have said, so this Bruce Grant fellow is now a member of a distressingly large fellowship of guys who are willing to make willfully ignorant statements very publicly. But I also have a question for Random House: In the year 2000, plenty of information was available to contraindicate publishing another edition of Grant's hopelessly outdated, disinformational "encyclopedia", so why on this singular earth would you allow it to see the light of day? Maybe the Louisiana state board of education wants to use it to complement the Bob Jones and A Beka so-called "textbooks? Thanks for informing us about this, Debbie. I will call my local library and suggest replacing this one with the Keoke & Porterfield set.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Jean, for the question for Random House. I included the info so we could ask that question.

And then I forgot to ask the question.

My guess is that the encyclopedia makes a lot of money for Random House, but they ought to be embarrassed at the shoddy content.

Anonymous said...

"The white man calls this the decimal system. The Indians called it the finger and hand count."

Wow! The mathematician in me wants to vomit.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I should just leave this but I've got mild obsessive disorder and I can't let this stand. Apologies in advance.

"The white man calls this the decimal system. The Indians called it the finger and hand count."

That this sentence is appallingly offensive, patronizing and racist is a given. But furthermore:

The "white man" doesn't call it the decimal system the English Language calls the decimal system. Why? Because "decimal" derives from the greek meaning "based on the number knows as 10". What is the significance of 10. Well, that's the number of fingers on both hands. Thus "decimal system" translates literally to "the system of counting based on the fingers and hands" or "the finger and hand count".

Now, I admit I have no idea what "the indians" (which indians? There were thousands of them) called this. But as their native language wasn't english it couldn't have been "the finger and hand count". Thus if that statement is to have any meaning (true or false, offensive or ... well, offensive or offensive) it has to mean "the indians name for this translates litterally to 'the finger and hand count'".

Thus what the sentence is saying is: "The white man calls this the decimal system. The Indians called it the decimal system."

Which makes the statement not only offensive, patronizing and racist (as was given) but *utterly* meaningless and thourough unjustified (whether true or false and offensive or offensive).

Okay, I'm sorry. All of that goes without saying. But I had to express that to get it out or I would have gone mad.