Importance to Indigenous People:
The importance of tribal libraries to indigenous people cannot be overstated. Their purpose goes well beyond the typical library function of providing an access point for information (although that is still an important service of tribal libraries). “Tribal libraries are an important part of the communities they serve. More than just a place from which to borrow books, they function as centers for social, educational, and tribal activities.” (Dunn 95)
First, tribal libraries are cultural centers. Native Americans "are rediscovering or retaining their culture by establishing genealogy, reading and inventing literature, reclaiming their Native languages, and becoming involved with political and social issues such as natural resource management, reclamation and reburial of human remains, and protection of treaty rights." (Roy) All of these cultural aspects are influenced and supported by the existence of tribal libraries. In addition to allowing a rediscovering of the past, tribal libraries offer tribal communities a view of the future. These repositories of tribal culture and information “can be an excellent tool for making younger generations aware of their history and traditions, so the culture remains vital and living, rather than something that is merely displayed in museums.” (Anderson 454)
Second, tribal libraries are educational centers. They (ideally) contain books and resources to allow tribal community members to learn about their own culture and history. "Their presence influences curriculum, instruction, and administration at all levels of Indian education.” (Pavel) In addition, those libraries with appropriate technology offer access points to information not otherwise available to many indigenous people.
Third, tribal libraries serve as support centers for tribal communities. “By creating and governing band [tribal] libraries, Aboriginal people have the power to define their information needs, stock their libraries accordingly, and address misinformation and stereotypes.” (Breu 254) Tribal libraries offer an opportunity for tribal communities to gain control over the perception of Native Americans, as well as a way for Native Americans to determine for themselves what information is relevant to them.
Importance to the General Public:
Although tribal libraries are primarily for the support of indigenous people, they are also an important tool for all Americans in that they represent an important part of this continent’s history and culture. Their importance for indigenous people is in itself a reason why they are important for the general public. All Americans “have a vested interest in helping every American, both Native and non-Native, to have equal opportunity of access to the resources required to achieve educational excellence.” (NCLIS)
In particular, tribal libraries are an important part of the American library profession. They contain invaluable resources such as manuscripts and audio transcripts, as well as serving as centers to preserve tribal languages and other vital cultural information, and should be supported by the library profession as a whole.
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