Dr. Loriene Roy, Professor
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin
There’s plenty of evidence nationally—and even internationally—that points to an awakening in interest and activity focusing on rural libraries, including those that serve Native and tribal communities. This evidence is seen in successful recent and planned gatherings. The Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) and the Association of Bookmobiles and Outreach Services (ABOS) held a joint conference in Denver from 13-16 October 2010. Four hundred and fifty individuals attended the conference, 80 percent of whom appeared to be joining the event for the first time. Over the past four years, ARSL has grown to include 500 members from 47 states and ARSL is making steps toward gaining status as a 503c nonprofit organization. Heavily attended conference workshops covered library boards, books by mail, customer service models, advocacy and public relations, technology, green vehicle technologies, and services for preschoolers, teens, immigrants, and refugees, and the un- or under- employed. As a keynote speaker, I was treated with small town kindness and attention and made many new friends and colleagues. Attendees now count the days until the 2011 ARSL conference in Frisco, Texas and the 2011 ABOS conference in Cleveland.
Among the ARSL-ABOS conference attendees were those interested in and involved with tribal librarians. Tribal and Native library issues are of special interest to two ALA committees.
Like ARSL, ALA’s Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds Committee is young in age, having been officially established in 2005, but sincere in its commitment to advance issues and work toward the betterment of the libraries it represents. The eleven members of the Committee include representations appointed by the American Indian Library Association, the American Association of School Libraries, the Public Library Association, the OLOS (Office of Literacy and Outreach Services) Advisory Committee, and ALA’s Legislative Committee along with six members appointed by the ALA President. The Committee is currently involved with revising content on its website and in planning programs for the 2011 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Committee members invited librarians in rural area to commemorate Banned Books Week 2011 by reading Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Members are currently in discussion with WebJunction on promoting WebJunction resources, especially continuing education opportunities, to those working in rural libraries.
The other ALA unit involved with tribal libraries is the ALA OLOS Subcommittee on Library Services to Native Americans, chaired by the immediate past President of the American Indian Library Association (AILA), one of five ethnic library associations affiliated with ALA. AILA meets at each ALA Midwinter Meeting and ALA Annual Conference.
Those interested in Native library issues may be members of other communities. Those working at tribal college librarians may participate in the annual Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute that has taken place, usually on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, over the past fifteen years. Tribal librarians in Arizona hold an annual meeting and those in Arizona have frequent meetings and participate in NALSIG, the Native American Libraries Special Interest Group of the New Mexico Library Association. The Oklahoma Library Association has a Tribal Libraries, Archives & American Indian Collections Ad Hoc Committee . The Alaska Library Association has an Alaska Native Issues Roundtable. Nationally, a National Archives, Libraries, and Museums organization is under consideration, building on national conferences held since 2003. Meanwhile, those involved in tribal information settings in Wisconsin have held their first of three years of Convening Culture Keepers and the Alaska State Library is hosting anAlaska Native Libraries, Archives, and Museums Summit in April 2011.
Outside of the United States the two most well known national indigenous library organizations are Te Ropu Whakahau (Maori in Libraries and Information Management) in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN) in Australia. Since 1999, indigenous librarians from around the world have met at the International Indigenous Librarians Forum (IILF); the next IILF will take place in April 2011 in Karaskjok, Norway. An international forum for discussing indigenous library issues is the Special Interest Group on Indigenous Matters of the International Federation of Library Associations and Organizations (IFLA). Anyone can join the IFLA SIG; only the convener is required to be a personal member of IFLA and other members of the IFLA SIG need not be members of IFLA.
The IFLA SIG has formed several task forces that are addressing issues of interest to indigenous librarianship around the world. These deal with key issues (including definitions), an international outreach plan to locate and include other indigenous librarians, identification of key protocol documents, a task force to review IFLA documents, and a task force to explore the role of libraries and information settings in strengthening indigenous languages.
These organizations illustrate the wide ranging communities that are and can be impacted by rural, Native, and tribal libraries. Challenges exist as these libraries are typically underfunded and have needs for staff development and resources. As associations develop and more gatherings are organized, these needs will be broadcasted more widely. Those working in these settings will have opportunities to learn from others and to share their unique experiences with the greater library world.
Dr. Roy is the current chair of the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds (RNTLOAK), and is a Past President of ALA (2007-2008).
Submitted by Anand Kalra, University of Michigan
I went to college at 17, knowing with little uncertainty that I would graduate with a dual bachelor's-master's in civil and environmental engineering, go to law school, and then practice environmental law and policy, before running for congress at 25, senate at 30, and president at 35. A few funny things happened during my first semester on campus, and my life plan didn't quite work out that way; instead, I got active in campus, state, and national LGBT politics and activism, before becoming disillusioned with the failures of organization-based social movements. I was about to finish my undergrad (in Sociology and Math) when I discovered, quite by chance, the field(s?) of information and library science via the website of the University of Michigan School of Information. Three and a half years later, here I am: finishing a degree that I sometimes wish was an MLS (and is instead an MSI) and bursting with ideas of how to integrate librarianship into organized activism, in order to cut costs and optimize outcomes by developing and executing more efficient programs based on better-researched information (whew...still working on the short version of that one).
From September 2009 to August 2010, I worked at the University of Michigan Spectrum Center (est. 1971) as an intern in their library. Named after Spectrum Center co-founder Jim Toy, the collection was 2,000 volumes strong, had been weeded once (for duplicates) in institutional memory, had no designated budget, no library-trained staff, and yet circulated items regularly. At the time I began my exploratory internship, cataloging staff from the UM Library were beginning the implementation phase of a project 3 years in the making—adding holdings records for each of our books in the MLibrary back-end database and OPAC. Having facilitated coming-out and speaker's bureau programs as a volunteer for the Spectrum Center since 2005, I felt confident that I knew the users reasonably well, so I set about getting to know the collection itself—a task made easy by the mass-reshelving precipitated by the cataloging project.
During the first four months of my work, I talked with staff and student-users of the space and collection to figure out what were the current library practices and where they were breaking down; from this, I designed several projects to rectify, or at least ameliorate (I hoped) the problems. During the remaining eight months of my internship, I worked with the UM Library's subject specialist in LGBTQ & Women's Studies to get the projects rolling—writing a collection development policy, doing internal cataloging and classification to aid user discovery of materials without librarian mediation, evaluating circulation processes, and, my favorite, identifying what modes of practice for public services (reference and instruction) best fit the needs of the Jim Toy Library's users.
I found that reference in a student affairs office takes two major forms: information & referral from the front desk (walk-in and phone) and in-depth research and readers' advisory in the collection space. I was pleased to find that reference interactions worked very similarly to the way they do in the academic library settings I was accustomed to—in particular, patrons are often shy about asking questions, even when the information-helper (librarian or other staff) are present and clearly not doing anything important, and when they do ask, patrons ask the question they think they should, instead of the one they actually want an answer for. I noticed that basic relationship-building with patrons (starting with a simple, "Hi! How are ya?") increased their likelihood of asking a question, and standard reference interview techniques helped us find appropriate information quickly and efficiently—all good news in uncharted territory!
Besides the methods of librarianship working well in the new environment, I also noticed that the reach of our work expands far beyond the range of our intended user population (another commonality with academic and public libraries). When one of the Spectrum Center's staff vacationed in Texas over the summer, she met the friend of a friend who had a depressed and closeted gay nephew in a small-town Tennessee high school. Working with a student volunteer on the task of finding resources for the teen, our office in Michigan was able to research and aggregate locally accessible books and organizations (including a –thankfully—nearby PFLAG chapter for the Tennessee teen.
The exploratory work I did in my internship solidified my hunch that adding organized information practices to the exiting work that campus LGBT resource centers do can augment the support the centers provide without substantially altering the infrastructure of these offices. There are scores of LGBT resource centers on college campuses throughout the world today, dozens of library and information schools, and hundreds of academic libraries. Collaborations among these three types of organizations can emerge anywhere the three convene, improving the quality of life for queer students everywhere and making quicker work of the our duty as citizens and librarians to promote and foment equality and access for all people.