Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services

25Oct/10Off

Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries—Of All Kinds!

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).

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