Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums: preserving our language, memory, and lifeways

Edited by Loriene Roy, Anjali Bhasin, and Sarah K. Arriaga. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2011. 247 pp. $55 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-8108-8194-5.

Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums is a seminal collection of essays, instructional papers, and case studies on the contemporary successes and challenges of libraries in Native American reservations and communities. Predominantly focusing on the reality of tribal libraries in the U.S., the editors and authors also draw on the international experience of Indigenous libraries and librarians.

Libraries in Native American and Indigenous communities face many of the same challenges that all libraries face, but they also must rise to a unique set of challenges, including contending with administrators and community members who are often indifferent, suspicious, or outright opposed to what the library represents (both real and perceived). Many Indigenous libraries are faced with the reality of competing for limited resources in an environment where the collective memory and perception of anything related to education is negative. For many Indigenous peoples, non-Native education practices in the form of boarding and residential schools were imposed on them in an effort to erase Indigenous cultures. This history is both long-term and recent, with wide ranging traumatic, psychological, and social effects. In other cases, resistance to libraries may come from those who believe that knowledge and history should only be passed down by traditional oral/aural means. Like libraries in non-Native communities, tribal libraries have to contend with the stereotyped perception of libraries as mere collections of books. When we combine these realities with the fact that Native American communities are more often than not small, financially strapped, and contending with a wide range of social and cultural challenges, it is not difficult to understand the uphill journey that tribal libraries regularly face. Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums provides readers and practitioners with concrete, real-life examples of success and strategy in rising to meet these challenges.

As the title suggests, this collection highlights the commonalities shared among, and the collaborative nature of, libraries, archives, and museums in Indigenous communities. With one institution (and one staff member) often serving the function of all three, tribal libraries, archives, and museums are contemporary tools employed by some Indigenous communities in their efforts to preserve and promote their (often threatened) languages, histories, and customs. Reflecting the growing attention paid to such institutions in Indigenous communities, this volume shares the stories, challenges, achievements, and aspirations of some of the individuals that work to promote, share, and preserve Indigenous knowledge. Divided into four parts, the volume begins with a series of case studies primarily drawn from the examples of tribal libraries in the U.S., but also from international developments. This section highlights the role that libraries, archives, and museums have in Indigenous language recovery and revitalization. Part II expands upon the individual case studies to explore the full range of service functions that Indigenous information centers perform. Of particular note are essays by Kristen Hogan on collection development as potentially serving as a tool of resistance and social justice; and by Loriene Roy on structuring library services and programming so that they may be relevant and welcoming to the needs and shared gifts of community Elders, the traditional knowledge keepers in Indigenous cultures. Part III focuses specifically on the collections and functions of archives, with informative and practical suggestions for the kinds of materials tribal institutions might collect, and the cultural, linguistic, and historical value and challenges of providing access to such collections. The final section of this volume is of particular relevance to Indigenous librarians, archivists, and museum practitioners – many of whom find themselves tasked with a wide range of duties, but who may have thin salaries, little formal training, and little or no financial or personnel assistance. Essays in this final section focus on providing practical advice with regard to supporting professional development. Discussed here are the benefits and approaches to strategic planning, gaining local support for library development, advocating on behalf of the library, seeking accreditation, and developing staff development plans.

Highly readable and practical in its approach, this volume deserves a wide readership amongst not only tribal and Indigenous librarians, but also the wider community of librarians, archivists, and museum practitioners who, through awareness, can take action to support their Indigenous colleagues.

Dr. Brendan F.R. Edwards is the author of Paper Talk: a history of libraries, print culture, and Aboriginal peoples in Canada before 1960 (Scarecrow, 2005).