July 11, 2018
The American Indian Library Association (AILA) commends the recent decision by the Association for Library Service to Children and ALA for taking the long overdue action to change the name of the Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. The Children’s Literature Legacy Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences.
For many years, AILA members have led the effort to fight against stereotypes of Native Americans in children’s and young adult books. At the 1991 ALA Annual Conference in Atlanta, AILA presented a program to address Indian stereotypes in children’s literature. There were no children’s librarians from AILA looking at this issue in 1991, but a young children’s literature professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) was looking at ethnic stereotypes generally, and she agreed to be the keynote speaker. AILA president Naomi Caldwell and secretary Lisa Mitten produced a handout focusing specifically on Native American images, “I” is NOT for Indians: Selective Bibliography and Guide.” The room of ALA attendees reached capacity of 50, and an overflowing crowd stretch into the hallway. AILA had tapped into a need that went beyond our own concerns; the response was encouraging and gratifying. The young SLIS faculty member was Dr. Carla Hayden, now the Librarian of Congress.
Since that initial program in 1991, AILA has continued to grow into a very strong affiliate of ALA. American Indian librarians continue to join the profession at all levels and in greater numbers, including AILA member Loriene Roy, who was elected as ALA President in 2007-2008. To honor that achievement, AILA revisited the topic at the 2007 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., with co-sponsorship by the ALA/ OLOS Subcommittee for Library Services to American Indian People. The program “American Indian Children’s Literature: Identifying and Celebrating the Good” included the handout “”I” is for Inclusion: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People,” compiled by Caldwell, Mitten, and Gabriella Kaye, children’s librarian at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
Native librarians such as Debbie Reese, through her invaluable blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, have kept the issue of representation in youth literature alive and moved it further into the mainstream. In 2006, AILA initiated the American Indian Youth Literature Awards (AIYLAs) at the first Joint Librarians of Color Conference to honor and promote American Indian authors and illustrators.
As an organization with a mission to improve information and library services to American Indian communities, AILA members have worked for nearly 40 years with support from the Association for Library Service to Children, the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services, and other ALA divisions and groups, such as the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMERT), to identify and highlight the harmful stereotypes and depictions of American Indians in children’s literature. AILA is grateful to the ALSC leadership, task force, and librarians that understand that an award that honors children and young adult authors’ legacies should be one that respects the voices and cultures of all people in the United States, including those of Native American peoples. The name change of the award is a significant action by the library and literary communities that shows respect for American Indian peoples. We as nations and tribes are still here, and we will continue to share our cultures, languages, and voices with everyone around the world.
The American Indian Library Association is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Members are individuals and institutions interested in the development of programs to improve library cultural and informational services in school, public, and academic libraries. AILA is committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and traditions to the library community. https://ailanet.org/
The American Indian Library Association is an Affiliate of the American Library Association. Affiliate organizations of the American Library Association are groups having purpose or interests similar to those of the Association.