Traditional Cultural Expression Conference, Sixth and Last Panel

November 16, 2008

The last panel discussion at the Traditional Cultural Expression Conference in Washington, D.C., addressed "Emergent Technologies, Emergent Cultures: The Interface of Technology with Traditional Cultural Expression." "How is knowledge embodied in media?" asked Ramesh Srinivasan, assistant professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. He advocates for a hip-hop model or any number of other modern interpretations of traditional culture, along with new methods of organization and access. Does that mean we reject cataloging and classification? No, he said, but it argues for including "the narrative associated with an object," leading to collaborative methods, research done with people not on or about them. He called for flexible, practical models that involve people in all phases of a project. Greg Younging, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, talked about indigenous use of technology. "I come from a traditional family," he said, "which also went through the educational system that uprooted children and put them in residential schools." He is the first member of his family that didn’t go through that system. "I don’t have my language," he said, "and I had to discover the traditions for myself."  One of misconceptions he pointed to is the notion is that "authentic" or "traditional" means "being exactly what we were when we first encountered Europeans, hunting buffalo and living in teepees." Using technology does not amount to abandoning tradition, Younging maintained. Technology belonged to indigenous people too; witness mound building, long houses, the pyramids. Mound building was such an ancient technology that it had stopped even before Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere. "Modern technology is a tool that people can adapt to their cultures, not something with intrinsic power," he said. “We can indigenize anything.” Oral history, and the need to pass it from generation to generation,  is a validation of the need to preserve history—the principal not the means. Eric Kansa, of the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley asked why it is that scholarship, supported with public money, is limited to one community. Because "we are in a restrictive publishing paradigm," he answered, calling for "common ground in the digital commons."  Why can’t this discussion be more widely available and participatory, he asked, instead of locked behind subscription barriers. Kansa suggested an alternative to intellectual property protection in libraries could be "our own mark, like the copyright symbol, that is mark of respect." He also warned against letting Google become "a giant Hoover of content." The Traditional Cultural Expression Conference ended with a free-wheeling wrap-up led by Jonathan Franklin of the Gallagher Law Library, Janice Pilch of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Lori Driscoll of the University of Florida Smathers Libraries. The trio will be the library liaisons to WIPO, and they collected recommendations from the participants that will further the American Library Association’s primary purpose in holding the three-day invitational: “to define the U.S library position on cultural expression.” Respect, reciprocity, responsibility, collaboration, self-determination, and openness, need to be among the principles that guide library and archival preservation of traditional cultural expression, with a focus on the "human value" libraries can bring to the WIPO table. Several participants confirmed the sense that there is a difference between the general protection of traditional cultural expression and the intellectual property rights of indigenous people who believe in collective ownership in perpetuity. Libraries need to focus on the latter, in relation to WIPO, and to stand behind the U.N. Declaration of the Human Rights of Indigenous People. Conference organizer Carrie Russell, of the sponsoring ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, said the group's recommendations will be organized and posted to the conference website for further development. And she thanked the MacArthur Foundation for funding the Traditional Cultural Expression Conference.