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Respecting the language: digitizing Native American language materials

Mary Wise (Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA)
Sarah R. Kostelecky (Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA)

Digital Library Perspectives

ISSN: 2059-5816

Article publication date: 11 June 2018

Issue publication date: 5 November 2018




Many academic libraries use digital humanities projects to disseminate unique materials in their collections; during project planning, librarians will consider platforms, scanning rates and project sustainability. Rarely, though, will academic librarians consider how members from the communities that created the materials can contribute to digitization projects. The purpose of this study is to explain how collaboration with Zuni Pueblo (a Native American tribe in the southwest) community members improved a digital humanities project to disseminate Zuni language learning materials.


Methodologically relying on critical making, which involved community member feedback throughout the process, the Zuni Language Materials Collection will provide digital access to 35 language learning items.


The authors argue that collaboration with members of the community of creation dramatically improved item description, collection discoverability and collection interactivity. This study historicizes CONTENTdm and describes how the team modified this content management system to meet user needs. This project produced a prototype digital collection, collaboratively authored metadata and an interactive portal that invites users to engage with the collection.

Practical implications

Libraries continue to struggle to reach and reflect their diverse users. This study describes a process that others may use and modify to engage nearby Native American communities.


This piece shares a unique strategy of partnering with Native American community members on all aspects of digital humanities project development and design. This case study attempts to fill a gap in the literature as the first study to describe a digitization process using CONTENTdm with a Native American community.



The authors would like to thank those who made this project possible: the ZETAC grant team, the Zuni Bilingual Education Department, the Zuni Public School District, Arin Peywa The A:shiwi College and Career Readiness Center and the Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communication Department at the University of New Mexico.


Wise, M. and Kostelecky, S.R. (2018), "Respecting the language: digitizing Native American language materials", Digital Library Perspectives, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 200-214.



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