Library Services Centre

LSC is proud to announce that as of January 2021 we will offer libraries the option of receiving topical subject headings that are more respectful of indigenous peoples instead of, or in addition to, the professional-standard headings in LCSH and CSH, which currently use colonial language.




The Truth and Reconciliation commission delivered its report in Dec 2015. This report included the 94 Calls to Action. A little over a year later, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations delivered its own report reacting to the TRC, and included 10 of their own calls to action. This report was endorsed by 37 associations and organizations across Canada.


This project, to create respectful Indigenous Subject Headings, is meant to be a step towards fulfilling the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation. It specifically is designed to achieve one of the CFLA calls to action, action 5: “libraries should strive to decolonize access and classification.” While it is beyond our power to reorganize Dewey (though we have worked with several libraries who have created their own bespoke classification schemes), subject headings are another matter entirely.


We were asked for a number of years by the majority of our clients for a solution. Especially because a solution does not appear to be forthcoming from our national standard makers. LAC has been reviewing Indigenous terminology since at least 2007. As of 2019, LAC continues to say that consolations are on-going, with no timetable for when they will make recommendations to changes in Canadian Subject Headings. Likewise, as of 2020 RVM has said they are forming working groups. For many of our clients, this wasn’t good enough.


In the mean time some libraries had begun to work on the project themselves, in isolation or with regional partners. Prominently in this regard is the University of Manitoba, who established their own working group in 2013, unveiled a prosed list in 2016, and implemented it in 2018. In general, universities were able to get working on this project earlier than public libraries as, in general, universities have the funding and bandwidth to tackle such a major project. That being said, many libraries across Canada are at some stage of this project themselves, examples include PEI, Toronto, Regina, Greater Victoria, Peterborough, and so on. 


LSC’s Project


In 2018, LSC’s position was to wait for LAC to provide a national standard or at least recommendations. It was our understanding at the time that an announcement would be made soon. In 2019, the announcement was that there were no timelines. This spurred LSC to action. As a non-Indigenous Canadian company, LSC recognizes Canada’s colonial history and our place within it. We recognize how existing library standards continue to subjugate Indigenous Peoples by perpetuating names appointed by settlers, and have chosen to take action to affect real and substantial change within our industry. LSC feels the act of appropriate, respectful representation for indigenous peoples in library records is long overdue. This correction to years of misidentification of cultures and peoples is too important not to take action upon. Doing nothing was simply no longer an option.


Why did we feel that we had any purview to undertake such a project? LSC has what amounts to one of the largest cataloguing departments in Canada. We catalogue - item in hand – 50,000 new titles a year and work with over 120 libraries across Canada. When we were created 50-odd years ago, it was to be a cataloguing and processing house, and while we have grown over the years into a full service vendor, we have a longevity of experience cataloguing, and cataloguing for scale.


At OLA 2019, we made contact with representatives from the Greater Victoria Public Library, who were developing their own list building on the work done by University of Manitoba as well as other consultations. With the idea that good work builds on good work, GVPL’s list was open source, and so we were able take it and adapt it. We undertook a research project, both reaching out to others who had been working on similar projects, and using the GVPL list as a base. At the same time, requests for these headings increased from clients.


By OLA 2020, we were able to announce that we would be able to start testing and implementing our list within six months. Then COVID happened. LSC was shut down by provincial order from March until June, and much of our energy after June was invested in getting our operations back up and running, and adapting not only our own COVID safety requirements, but those individual needs of our libraries, in different provinces with different levels of restrictions that were constantly in flux. However, despite the delays, we were able to take our list live in Jan 2021, and have been in full implementation since.


It is critical to note here that these are not in any way official headings. They are not approved by CSH or LOC. They are empathetic headings. LSC has been doing empathetic cataloguing based on the individual needs of libraries for years. This is the first time we have pushed out an empathetic service to our entire client base. It is also important to note that our original position stands: we have neither the authority nor the inclination to say that our headings are the final and best option. This is a living project that will continue to evolve over time, until such time that LAC, RVM, and LOC finish their consultations and provide national standards. A considerable amount of the technical work we did was to ensure that when a national standard is revealed, we’ll be able to update or override our headings with the new ones.


We worked with our ILS provider to create a way that we could uniquely input the new headings, and flip those headings into standard fields when sent to a library. So, when we create a new record, the colonial headings continue to be entered in a 6xx field, and we flag the heading with a $9x. This tags this headings in our system, so we can more easily locate it in the future. The new headings are entered as local headings in a 69x field.


When the MARC record is sent to a client, our system converts the 69x field into the appropriate corresponding 6xx field, and is coded with a 4 in the second indicator position. What our clients see are just the 6xx fields, either with a $9x which doesn’t affect how the record appears in your ILS, or with an indicator 4 to identify it as a non-LOC or CS heading. Why go to all this trouble? So that when a national standard is released, our systems department can map that list both to ours and to the older headings, and update the whole system in one fell swoop. And that includes working with libraries to updates the records in their ILS, which I’ll get to in a minute.


What does our list look like? As I mentioned, the base of our list was the GVPL list, which in turn took into consideration the work done by the University of Manitoba and others. Not every institution has publicly shared their lists, and we are grateful for GVPL for sharing theirs. In their spirit, our list is not strictly proprietary. We are not publicly sharing it, however, feel free to contact us to discuss how we might help you.


We would ask if you do, that you provide feedback. Perhaps your institution is already doing this work themselves, perhaps you are curious to see what others are doing. We are curious as to what everyone is doing. Everyone will have different regional priorities. What is most important to Saskatchewan won’t be what is most important to New Brunswick. We consider this to be an on-going, collaborative project, and consider the current version of the list version 1. We are fully prepared to issue updates to the list as needed, and the best source for updates come from feedback and further research.


That being said, the current list features nearly 2000 altered, updated, or created headings. The priority focus here are Indigenous peoples in Canada, but North America is well represented. There are an additional 500 headings for South America, and GVPL had identified a long list of global Indigenous groups for whom no work has been done yet. The nature of the new headings adheres to the notion of “call people what they want to be called, not what you want to call them.” Some headings, like “Indians of North America” have been removed entirely. A common question we have gotten is, what is the logic we use to apply “Indigenous peoples” vs specific groups, or headings like “First Nations”, “Metis”, or “Inuit”? We use “Indigenous peoples” as the most general heading. “First Nations”, “Metis”, or “Inuit” would be used on items that are primarily about those groups. And of course, the preference is always to use the specific individual names for groups and bands whenever possible.


Stage One


These new headings have been live since Jan 2021. In that time, they have been added to all relevant, newly created MARC records. They have been delivered to our clients without additional charge as part of our cataloguing service. This will be our standard service moving forward. Until such time as a national standard is developed, we are delivering both the older colonial headings and the new headings in our records. If a library wishes, they can elect to receive only the new headings, and approx. 25% of our clients have thus far decided this is what they want. It doesn’t matter to us which way it happens, and those decisions are for each library to make for themselves. Internally, we’ve been updating records created before Jan 2021 with the new headings, prioritizing items from the last five years as they are more likely to be wanted by libraries than older materials.


Stage Two


This stage depends on you, the libraries of Canada, retrospectively updating their catalogue with the new respectful headings. We are also undertaking several retrospective projects with libraries, to update the records already in their ILS with the new headings. As this requires a considerable amount of manual work on the part of our staff, we are currently charging for this service, and will provide a quote to any library interested. The quote will be based on the number of records in your collection that need updating, and is priced for cost-recovery. Critically, because we are only providing updates based on standardized subject headings, we can do this retrospective work with any library regardless if they are a current client, and if they created the MARC record themselves or received it from another vendor. If you want to know more about how LSC can help with retrospective work, please contact us.


Stage Three and Beyond


based on feedback, the list will be updated as needed. At the time of updating, we would be in contact with libraries and provided the updated headings where needed. And once a national standard comes along, we will work with libraries to ensure the smooth transition from one list to another. It will be work for us down the line, but work we have accepted to do, because it was becoming increasingly clear that no action in this regard was worse than action that might have to be changed or repeated.


Looking beyond Indigenous headings, we have already started to receive requests from clients to do a similar empathic headings project for Queer headings. Right now, based on our research, there is less consensus in the community as to what terms would be preferred, and we are working on getting involved with libraries that have made their own lists, or are forming working groups. Still, viable headings of this sort are likely some years away. Likewise, the headings related to immigration are in need of improvement. In 2016, LOC gave recommendations to implement improvements, but they were not enacted due to American political pressures at that time. We shall have to wait and see if those changes are made official, but we at least have their recommendations that we can act upon.  


LSC is located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Attawandaron. LSC is located on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on both sides of the Grand River. We also serve libraries across Turtle Island, the lands now occupied by Canada. We recognize and respect the deep history and heritage that these lands bear, and also recognize that Indigenous peoples continue to shape and strengthen our communities. As Settlers, we're grateful for the opportunity to live and work here.

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