In 2004 the ALA created a series of recommendations to “develop a national advocacy campaign to emphasize the contribution of rural and tribal libraries”. These recommendations concentrated on the ways in which the ALA could appropriate funding and resources to support tribal libraries and to recruit more Native Americans into the profession; they did not indicate the need for advocacy outside of the ALA and the tribal communities themselves.
In order to illuminate the importance of tribal libraries to all Americans, a cross-cultural educational program should be developed to increase awareness of and support for new and existing tribal libraries.
Despite a number of success stories, many challenges face the vast majority of tribal libraries. Tribal libraries are vital repositories of history, both for individual Native American cultures and for the United States as a whole, and yet they struggle to maximize their potential. Libraries lack appropriate financial support. There is a dearth of qualified tribal members to serve as information professionals and a lack of funding to pay trained professionals (Native American or otherwise). Compared to most public library systems in the country, tribal libraries have a severe shortage of appropriate technology like computers and Internet access. With a sizeable percentage of Native Americans lacking even basic technology like electricity and telephones, it is even more essential for tribal libraries to contain appropriately current equipment in order to serve as access points for information technology.
This cross-cultural educational program will increase awareness about tribal libraries by educating various groups. Programs like the ALA, the AILA, and the NCLIS, as well as tribal leaders and non-Native American library professionals will work together to educate those within the library profession, tribal communities, and the general public about the tribal libraries and how to support them.
Library and Information Science Professionals – the educational outreach should start within the library profession. Tribal community leaders will educate LIS professionals about the difference between indigenous ways of knowing and those ways more common among the general public. Also the tribal leaders can emphasize the types of materials most appropriate and ways to locate relevant items for a tribal library collection. Special indigenous needs will be addressed so LIS professionals will gain an understanding of the unique information needs of Native Americans. In conjunction with this, the LIS professionals can educate tribal leaders on ways to recruit Native Americans to become library professionals, as well as other aspects of LIS that might be useful if tribal leaders are interested in developing or creating a tribal library.
Tribal Communities – Tribal leaders and educated LIS professionals can work in conjunction to educate tribal communities about the purpose of a tribal library and the various ways a library can support indigenous culture. This will improve understanding about why it is so crucial for tribal communities to use funding, however limited, to support their own libraries. This can also serve as a recruitment opportunity to raise interest in and awareness about the library profession among indigenous people.
General Public – this can start with seminars about tribal libraries at public libraries and in school libraries, first concentrating in areas with larger indigenous population, like Arizona, then gradually branching out to encompass the entire nation. The public will learn about the existence and reasons for tribal libraries, why they are important, and how the public can help to support them (financially and otherwise).
This educational outreach will first raise awareness of tribal libraries within the general library profession. In addition, all tribal community members will to be educated about the value and significance of tribal libraries to ensure that these centers are supported from within. Tribal communities will gain a greater appreciation for the reasons tribal libraries are so important, and interest should increase for Native Americans to join the library profession. Providing general knowledge about tribal libraries and their functions to the general public will assist in overcoming important challenges like lack of funding and the education of Native American library professionals. With renewed interest in tribal libraries, governmental bodies like the National Commission on Libraries and Information Services can more easily pass legislation and grant federal assistance to support tribal libraries.
In order to be successful in providing information access and supporting tribal culture, tribal libraries need to have proper support in the form of financial assistance and overall awareness of their importance across the board.
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