Saturday, January 23, 2016

Where do you shelve Native American stories?

The title of this post, "Where do you shelve Native American stories?" is directed primarily at librarians but the information is important to teachers, too, and writers. It is a quick and short response to a question about shelving of folk and fairy tales.

The stories I have in mind are the ones that are broadly characterized as myths, legends, and folktales.

First: the book you have in hand may not even be a Native American traditional story. Its art might tell you it is. It might even have the name of a specific Native Nation in it somewhere. In the title, maybe, or in the story, or in an author's note. That doesn't mean it is actually a Native American story. If it is a "based on" story where the author has drawn from several different nations, then, it is not a Native American story. Even though it looks like one, it ought to be shelved in fiction. If you use it in library programming, you should tell students that it is not a Native story. You should also tell students that Native people don't like it when writers use their stories that way. Give them examples -- I think you'll have to make up the example, because I don't know of a children's book that actually does this with two or more distinct world religions and then calls it a story of one of those religions. In short: if the story is "based on" stories from more than one Native Nation, it should be shelved in fiction.

Second: If you have determined it is about a single nation and that the art and words of the story accurately depict that single nation, ask yourself if it involves the creation of some aspect of that nation's way of viewing the world. If you determine it is a creation story, then it should be shelved in the same place that you put Bible stories. Shelving it there is an important signal that these are stories that are sacred--as sacred as Bible stories are to Christians. Generally speaking, people treat Bible stories with a respect that ought to be given to the sacred stories of any peoples' religion.


Gabrielle Prendergast said...

This is excellent advice. One thing I have struggled with is the discussion of Native or First Nations spirituality in public schools. Here in Canada my daughter has had a fair few lessons based on sacred First Nations traditions. As an atheist this always made her a bit uncomfortable, since other sacred stories are never included in her lessons. She is interested in First Nations history and culture but the spiritual stuff is a difficulty.

campbele said...

Debbie, as you know there are so many ways that cataloging reinforces stereotypes. My catalogers rely heavily upon OCLC and very seldom if ever deviate the course. Nonetheless, as I continue to clean up my teaching collection, this will be something I'll work to correct. I want to believe that putting these books in the correct place will say something to the users of the collection.