Brian Deer Classification System

The Brian Deer Classification System (BDC) is a library classification system used to organize materials in libraries with specialized Indigenous collections. The system was created in the 1970s by Canadian Kahnawake Mohawk librarian A. Brian Deer, and has been adapted for use by a small number of First Nations libraries in Canada.[1]

History and usage

Deer designed his classification system while working in the library of the National Indian Brotherhood from 1974 to 1976; instead of using a standard library classification scheme, he created a new system to organize the library's historic research materials and papers.[2] He went on to work at the Cultural Centre at Kahnawake and the Kahnawake Branch branch of the Mohawk Nation Office, creating new schemes for their collections.[2] The new systems Deer created were designed specifically for the materials in each collection according to the concerns of local Indigenous people at the time (for example, categories included land claims, treaty rights, resource management, and Elders' stories).[2][3] Between 1978 and 1980, the system was adapted for use in British Columbia by Gene Joseph and Keltie McCall while working at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.[1]

Though the Brian Deer Classification was not created as a universal classification solution for Indigenous resources, the system has provided a foundation for specialized libraries to create their own localized classification schemes.[3][4]:24

Variations of the Brian Deer Classification System are used in a small number of Canadian libraries.[1] One prominent library using BDC is the X̱wi7x̱wa Library at the University of British Columbia, which uses a British Columbia-focused version of BDC along with First Nations House of Learning subject headings.[1] The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Resource Centre revised the BDC in 2013, with the goal of providing users with a more flexible and culturally appropriate approach to organizing their resources.[2] The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec, implemented a local adaptation of BDC when they opened in 2012.[3][5]


The organizational structure of BDC reflects a First Nations worldview, with an emphasis on relationships between and among people, animals, and the land.[4]:22 Subcategories demonstrate the relationships among First Nations by grouping them geographically as opposed to alphabetically, as is often seen in the Library of Congress Classification.[4]:20[6]

The top-level hierarchy of the X̱wi7x̱wa Library adaptation of BDC demonstrates the emphasis on access to subjects prioritized by a First Nation collection:[7][8]:21

  • Reference Materials
  • Local History
  • History
  • International
  • Education
  • Economic Development
  • Housing and Community Development
  • Criminal Justice System
  • Constitution (Canada) and First Nations
  • Self Government
  • Rights and Title
  • Natural Resources
  • Community Resources
  • Health
  • World View
  • Fine Arts
  • Languages
  • Literature

The system is not designed to provide a comprehensive description of all topics of interest to North American Indigenous peoples; in addition, its use is limited in scope, being intended for small and specialized libraries.[2][8]:22 While English is used in the classification scheme as a common language among First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous library users, Indigenous spellings and terminology that local library users would expect to find are used to provide access.[4]:20[2] Short and easily remembered call numbers are used to facilitate use by both library workers and patrons, with the recognition that Indigenous libraries often have a small staff and limited resources to devote to cataloging.[2][8]:21 Beyond its simplicity, one potential drawback of the system is its shortage of clear guidelines for application, which provides flexibility but can also result in inconsistencies within and between library catalogs.[8]:21[4]:23

Because few libraries use the BDC and there are limited examples for use as case studies, implementing the system and keeping it up-to-date can prove a challenge for libraries with limited resources.[8]:27[4]:18 However, X̱wi7x̱wa Library head librarian Ann Doyle describes the system as "an important part of the body of Indigenous scholarship" that should be retained as a reflection of Indigenous worldviews, as well as for ease of access for Indigenous library users.[8]:27


  1. Doyle, Ann M.; Lawson, Kimberley; Dupont, Sarah (December 2015). "Indigenization of Knowledge Organization at the Xwi7xwa Library". Journal of Library and Information Studies. 13 (2): 112. doi:10.6182/jlis.2015.13(2).107. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  2. Cherry, Alissa; Mukunda, Keshav (31 Jul 2015). "A Case Study in Indigenous Classification: Revisiting and Reviving the Brian Deer Scheme". Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. 53 (5–6): 548–567. doi:10.1080/01639374.2015.1008717.
  3. Swanson, Raegan (31 July 2015). "Adapting the Brian Deer Classification System for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute". Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. 53 (5–6): 568–579. doi:10.1080/01639374.2015.1009669.
  4. Gilman, Isaac (March 2006). From Marginalization to Accessibility: Classification of Indigenous Materials (MLIS). Pacific University. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  5. Bosum, Annie; Dunne, Ashley (31 Oct 2017). "Implementing the Brian Deer Classification Scheme for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute". Collection Management. 42 (3–4): 280–293. doi:10.1080/01462679.2017.1340858.
  6. Lin, Brian (2006). "Stubbornness kept unique library open". Raven's Eye. 9 (8). Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  7. "Brian Deer Classification Scheme" (PDF). Xwi7xwa Library. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  8. Tomren, Holly (2004). "Classification, Bias, and American Indian Materials" (PDF). Retrieved 2 February 2019.
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