Metadata Frameworks Driven by Indigenous Communities in Canada's North: An Exploration

  • Author / Creator
    Farnel, Sharon
  • Digital libraries are online environments for organizing, sharing, and providing access to resources in digital form. Ideally, their content, functionality, organization, and metadata should reflect the needs, interests, and contexts of the communities they are meant to serve. Indigenous communities in Canada and around the world are increasingly turning to digital libraries as a means of leveraging the potential of technologies to create systems that are reflective of local knowledge systems and protocols and responsive to local needs and interests, enabling those communities to control and use their digital resources for their own benefit. Culturally responsive systems are grounded in aspects of the local culture, including language and ways of knowing and being in the world.
    The purpose of my research was to gain insight into how communities conceptualize culturally responsive metadata frameworks for digital libraries, and how those frameworks can be surfaced. Through a participatory case study of the Inuvialuit Digital Library (, a community driven research partnership, I sought to address two guiding research questions: a) how do Indigenous communities in the northernmost region of Canada characterize culturally responsive metadata frameworks for digital libraries of cultural resources?, and b) what methodologies and approaches are appropriate and effective in developing such conceptual frameworks? Information was gathered through interviews, informal and purposeful conversations, presentations, demonstrations, and user observations involving community collaborators and partners as well as community members at large. This approach was supplemented by the Digital Library itself, data gathered during the Digital Library North project, and my own field notes and reflections. Processes of thematic analysis of the information through my own review and reflection as well as through formal coding were carried out in parallel and in an iterative fashion, as observations were regularly taken back to community collaborators for review and discussion.
    The culturally responsive metadata framework surfaced through the research is very broad and holistic in character. It exhibits the general characteristics of sustainability, user-friendliness, and responsiveness. These are seen not only in the technical infrastructure, but in the framework itself and the people who work with it. The framework allows for organizing content according to themes and topics important to the community, such as place and people, and for ease of navigation and exploration. Resource descriptions include properties important to the community, and are displayed in a logical and intuitive manner. The metadata elements are those deemed most relevant to the community by the community, and are labelled clearly. The elements allow for both traditional (given based on Inuvialuit practices) and colonial (given based on Western practices) forms of names as well as spelling and dialect variations. They incorporate information about relationships between resources, and allow for community members to share and reference them. Our understanding of the framework can be enhanced by viewing it through a theoretical lens that incorporates anti-colonial theory, fluid ontologies, language (or sociolinguistic) codes, and digital storytelling.
    Certain methodologies and approaches were appropriate and effective in working together with the Inuvialuit community to surface the framework. As a researcher and collaborator, personal reflection on the what and why of the project as well as how I was working with the community was vital. Building relationships and trust was a critical ongoing process, which involved taking the lead from the community, using appropriate methods for gathering and analyzing information, engaging with the community outside of the research project proper, working respectfully with community collaborators, giving back to the community, and owning my educational, academic, and professional contexts, and my missteps, and learning from them.
    In researching and working together with community collaborators, we have created a Digital Library that is reflective of the community, and a framework that can be the basis of its continued growth and development. In striving to be a good relation and approach this work with respect and in the spirit of reciprocity, in this research I have demonstrated how Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals can work together to bring about positive changes. My research contributes to scholarship on digital libraries for a community and geographic region that is underrepresented, and contributes to a growing body of community based, action oriented research in library and information science. The framework has the potential to be used as a model in other Indigenous communities looking to develop their own digital libraries, and may offer insights to those people from or working with other traditionally underserved communities seeking to undertake similar initiatives.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.