Applying Decolonization Practices to the Library and AI Tools with Jordan Clark

Part Two

Illustration of Indigenous people against a beige background

This week Jordan Clark’s podcast interview continues with the second part. Whereas in part one Jordan discussed the importance of adopting a decolonial mindset more broadly, here he delves more deeply into the practicalities of what that looks like in libraries and archives. Listen in to learn more about how librarians and archivists can actively incorporate decolonization into their work, how that manifests physically and not just through reading lists, and the possible challenges and opportunities that AI poses to the future of this work.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Jordan Clark on Applying Decolonization Practices to the Library and AI Tools

As a reminder to our listeners, Jordan Clark is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, located on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Prior to joining HUNAP, Jordan was the Director of Community Programs for Equity and Inclusion at The Cambridge School of Weston, MA. In that role, he managed student affinity and alliance groups, organized community programming, created and managed a four-year service-learning program, and executed leadership training and professional development for students and adults. Jordan was also faculty in the History Department at CSW, focusing on Native American Studies, African American History, the History of Mass Incarceration, and the development of Race in America.

In the second part of his discussion with TIE Editor in Chief Alexia Hudson-Ward, Jordan shouts out Jessie Little Doe Baird from the Wampanoag Tribe in Mashpee and her work with MIT to create the Wampanoag Language Revitalization and Reclamation Project, as an example of how archival materials can be used for decolonial purposes. He underscores the need for librarians and archivists, as stewards of knowledge, to engage in the work of decolonization on every level, not only intellectually but personally as well. Jordan offers many invaluable insights through the course of this conversation. We are grateful to him for taking the time to speak with TIE and we encourage you all to listen to both parts of the discussion.

Here is a quick peek inside the episode:

On decolonizing libraries:

“[Even] if you have this amazing collection of literature from Native voices but you yourself aren’t [in] the process of a decolonial mindset, how are you going to push students and other people engaging in your work to those things. And so, I really think you have to do more than just buy books by Native authors … In a previous life … I had a Native colleague who was [a] librarian and the work that she would do to physically change the space to challenge students, to, on a daily basis, engage with something that was not from a Western thought is vastly important. The setup of a space and the design of a space can really change the interaction and engagement of the people using it. And so, on a regular basis, once a month, things changed in the space that brought a new piece of visual art, a new voice, a quote, something that challenged the students to engage with that and then ask questions about where it came from … It’s the work that happens on a regular basis by the librarian themself to get the audience to engage and to think about it. It’s making libraries interactive. It’s pushing that forward into people’s faces so the library isn’t a passive space, it’s an active space, calling people in, and it’s challenging them when they’re in that presence … The library is one of the biggest classrooms and engages with the most students … And it has to be the personal work too, because … you [have to] know how to ask the right question and guide your audience in the right direction.”

On the hesitancy to center Native American culture in Open Access scholarship:

“Well, I think there’s two pieces to that. One, I think because of the history of Native communities in the United States and other places, knowledge has been stolen and reappropriated by Western society. And so, there’s a real hesitancy from Native communities to actively share their knowledge in certain spaces because they don’t know how it’s going to be used because so much was taken and reappropriated and divorced from those communities themselves. And so, I think there has to be a level of work done by institutions to create consistent and trustworthy relationships with Native communities to even get to a place where we can have that open access to really important information, because if there’s not trust there, then why would Native communities share their knowledge with any institution … I think the second piece is that, at least what I’ve experienced, is less of like a pushback against it and more of a worry from institutions to mess things up. Right, we want to do good, but we don’t know how to do it. And then, if you don’t have the voices in your community to help guide you and give you reassurance that you are doing right, you are a rudderless boat. And so, if there’s a lack of Native representation at your institution, you lose the ability to have that moment.”

On striking a balance between caution and strategic management of AI:

“I think in academia, the large-language models are at the forefront … I think the really important piece, in my limited knowledge of how all that works, is that those tools aren’t creating anything, they’re scraping information that already exists. So, the challenge for Native communities is that the sources that they’re scraping from are problematic or colonized or from a Western view, and so, if those models are pulling from this already colonized system, then it’s only a matter of time that that’s what they’re going to perpetuate and uplift. And so, I think what that represents to me is the biggest bullhorn that has ever existed, that the internet can connect to everyone in a way that we have not seen in human history. And so, if colonial ideology and values and the erasure of Native Americans is a part of that history and the information that those systems are pulling from, those are the things that are going to be amplified and that’s where I’m worried. If Native voices aren’t being centered before these technologies existed, how could these technologies amplify Native voices, or are they going to continue to amplify the erasure of Native American people, communities, history, culture? And so, that’s the worry I have. But I think with every great advancement in human evolution, there’s the opportunity for things to change. And so, again, if there are Native voices or marginalized voices in the development and creation of these things, then there’s opportunity. Bu the reality is, I don’t know how many people are at the center of these moments.”

Watch the video interview here:

Be sure to sign up for alerts on the latest Toward Inclusive Excellence (TIE) content, whether it’s a new blog post, podcast episode, or webinar.

Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice with your topic idea.

Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.