What Is a Tribal Library?

The definition of a tribal library varies across the U.S. The history and timeline of many tribal community libraries, archives, and cultural centers (museums) can somewhat be tracked through a handful of publications. However, as print resources become out of date, the need arises for an online central directory to keep the most up to date information on these tribal institutions. By creating this online educational resource map, we aim to help share the history of the American Indian Library Association (AILA) and tribal libraries, archives, and museums (TLAMs) across the country.

AILA Emerging Leaders put Tribal Libraries on the Map

The American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders program provides library professionals with fewer than five years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level the opportunity to complete projects for ALA units and affiliates. This year the American Library Association Emerging Leaders team members: Rhiannon Sorrell, Aisha Conner-Gaten, Garrison Libby, Netanel Ganin, and Jessica Colbert selected to work on a project with AILA with project oversight by AILA President Lillian Chavez and past–president Naomi Bishop.

This team of early career librarians decided to work with the American Indian Library Association (AILA) to create a web-based directory of Tribal libraries, archives, and museums (TLAM). The directory includes names, contact information, locations, and the tribes/communities served by the institutions because they wanted help make tribal libraries more visible.

As a part of AILA’s proposed project for the 2018 cohort of Emerging Leaders, the project team created a digital resource to highlight US tribal libraries, archives, and museums (TLAMs) with the greater ALA , library, and education community. The project team created an online resource map to serve as a visual resource of TLAMs in the United States for the updated version of AILA’s website. In creating this resource, a number issues and concerns arose and the team considered them as cornerstones of the project. Issues of inaccuracy, privacy, and cultural competency, including the very definition of “Tribal Libraries” (and Archives, and Museums) were at the heart and creation of the directory. AILA will maintain the list online so feel free to submit your library, museum, archive, or cultural center to our list. https://triballibraries.wordpress.com/

In considering the definition of tribal libraries, several AILA members responded with their own definitions. Here are some of the responses:

  • “Tribal libraries provide more than library services. They also serve as archives, language repositories, heritage centers, museums, and a gateway to local, state, and federal service programs, learning centers, and community gathering places.” Cordelia Hooee, Pueblo of Zuni Governor’s Office Archive & Library
    “Tribal Libraries provides materials and services to help users obtain information, access to the Internet, and provides free and open access to print and non-print resources. Tribal Libraries can be a stand-alone department and/or a place to promote and preserve the tribe or sovereign nation’s culture and language.” Melanie Toledo, Ak-Chin Indian Community Library Manager
    “Not all indigenous people live on reservations in Alaska there is only one out of 250 villages, but the villages have cultural centers, museums, and community/school libraries in their communities.” Linda Wynne, Sealaska Corporation
    “A Tribal Library is on a reservation, meets tribal member needs, and has many collections, archival, preservation, curation and traditional programs.”- Lillian Chavez, Mescalero Community Library
    Lifelong learning to meet the informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs and interests of Tribal members, community members, and employees of the Nation.
    A Tribal Library is a library established on Federal and State recognized tribal lands and Sovereign Indigenous Nations. “Tribal” may need to include libraries located within a tribal jurisdiction. Helen P. Clements Oklahoma State University Law Library
  • The Library provides tribal citizens as well as the public a wide range of reading materials, including children, teen and adult fiction, as well as a broad range of nonfiction and reference items. It provides programs to assist in the continuation of the Sac and Fox culture, tradition and language, to document tribal history, stimulate reading, writing, research, and scholarship, and provide an educational resource for achieving a greater understanding of the Sac and Fox way of life. Kathy Platt, Sac and Fox National Public Library and Archives
  • “A tribal library is a place or space identified as such by the tribe. A shelf of books in a hallway, in tribal council chambers, in Education Director’s offices and shared space with a food coop, an alcohol rehab center and other interesting places. Now, those libraries have their own large rooms or, in most cases, their own buildings. What matters is that the concept of a “library” takes root and develops. Tribal members recognize and acknowledge a “library” exists.” Lotsee Patterson
  • A Tribal library provides programs to assist in the continuation of culture, tradition and language, to document tribal history, stimulate reading, writing, research, and scholarship, and provide an educational resource for achieving a greater understanding of the way of life
  • “Tribal libraries vary widely in size, collections, staffing, and function. They can include public, academic, and special libraries. Many libraries serve more than one role in a tribal community. Some may support reservation schools while also functioning as a public library. Some act as research libraries or archives. Many tribal college libraries also serve as public libraries. Some communities might have more than one library serving tribal members.”(Brown, K. M., & Webster, K. P. (2014). Tribal Libraries: Vital but Often Invisible Treasures. OLA Quarterly, 12(4), 20-24. http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/1093-7374.1140)
  • “Tribal public libraries are learning centers central to their communities and promote literacy and education in young and old alike. Tribal public libraries serve as the only information resources in their community and provide the only internet access for tribal members. Tribal public libraries provide services and programming that support the unique needs of their communities. With the recent state of the economy tribal public libraries have seen an increase in community members utilizing library resources for job searches, filing unemployment, online classes, checking out materials, and participating in programs.” https://nmtriballibraries.wordpress.com/nm-tribal-libraries/

AILA and the Emerging Leaders team hope that this visual resource will highlight the variety and scope of U.S. tribal libraries. You can also check out AILAs Tumbler page created last year to share tribal libraries across the country and advocate for support of IMLS and LSTA grant funding. https://triballibrarystories.tumblr.com/