Article Title

A Library Matter of Genocide: The Library of Congress and the Historiography of the Native American Holocaust


For decades, Indigenous experiences of mass killings, atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and assimilation have been marginalized from genocide studies due to the ways in which knowledge is constructed in the field, specifically in terms of its focus on definitions and prototype-based conceptions. This article argues that these exclusions are not merely owed to discourses internal to genocide studies, but are affirmed by conventional library terminologies for the purposes of knowledge organization and information retrieval in the form of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and classification, as applied to books regarding genocidal colonial encounters with Indigenous Peoples. These headings largely exhibit euphemistic tendencies and omissions that often fail to reflect the contents of the materials they seek to describe, not only impeding retrieval of books on this subject, but also their incorporation into current scholarship.

To determine the extent to which the assignment of LCSH and call numbers corresponded reasonably to the stated intent of the authors, searches in OCLC’s global WorldCat catalogue were conducted for books related to the Library of Congress subject “Indians of North America” and some variation of the keywords genocide, holocaust, or extermination, yielding a list of 34 titles. The subject headings and classification designations assigned to these books were then analyzed, with particular attention paid to euphemisms for genocide, colonial narratives, the exercise of double standards when compared to non-Indigenous genocides, or outright erasure of genocide-related content. The article argues that Western epistemologies in both genocide studies and library science have marginalized Indigenous genocides, reproducing barriers to discovery and scholarship, and contributing to a social discourse of Native American Holocaust denial. Instead a pragmatic view in library science is proposed, in which claims of genocide on the part of authors are taken as given and which would recognize the legitimacy of Indigenous perspectives concerning their relationship to land and how processes of assimilation (such as Canada’s residential school system) were consistent with Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of genocide. It argues that enabling our ability to name and discuss genocide in North America can contribute to a more honest reckoning with our history and hence the basis for reconciliation and social justice.


The author would like to thank and acknowledge Lorena Fontaine of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Indigenous Studies for her comments, suggestions, and advice in the preparation of this paper, as well as Deidra Wallace, the University Library’s Data and Discovery Librarian, for her technical assistance concerning metadata and the Library of Congress.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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