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TL v57 n2 Service to Underrepresented Populations
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 1



Services to Underrepresented Populations

Loriene Roy

ALA President-Elect



In this presentation I briefly introduced some of the international, national, and state-level library development efforts focusing on indigenous peoples. To begin with, we can consider the basic question: how should we refer to our patrons who identify themselves as indigenous peoples of this land? A good rule of thumb is to ask the individual what he or she would prefer. It is generally good protocol to use tribally specific names—such as Lummi, Pueblo of Laguna, or Potawatomi. Many older Native people have long used American Indian or Indian to refer to their heritage. The term “indigenous” is often used when speaking of Native peoples living outside of the United States.

International Efforts to Further Indigenous Library Developments

Let us start with a look at tribal library development at the international level, specifically with the International Indigenous Librarians Forum, IFLA, and WIPCE.

The first International Indigenous Librarians Forum was held in November 1999 at the Waipapa Marae (Maori cultural house) on the campus of the University of Auckland. Hosted by Te Ropu Whakahau (Maori in Libraries and Information Management), the event was attended by 110 individuals from Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Greenland, and the United States. The Forum provided an opportunity for discussion, preparation of declarations or statements, publishing papers, and networking. Since then, the Forum has been held every two years. It moved to northern Sweden in September 2001, then to Santa Fe, New Mexico in November 2003, and most recently to Regina, Saskatchewan in September 2005. The 2007 Forum will take place in Brisbane, Australia and the Forum will return to Aotearoa/New Zealand for the tenth anniversary in 2009. The format of the Forum usually includes opportunities for non-indigenous librarians to attend and participate as well.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is more well known to the international library community. IFLA has recently issued a Statement on Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and is starting discussions on services for and with indigenous peoples and the role of intellectual and cultural property rights and access. Since 2003, IFLA has organized discussion groups, programs, and now a new Presidential Committee on Indigenous Matters. The “Library Services to Multicultural Populations” section has a strong presence in IFLA. This section organizes well-attended programs at each IFLA annual conference and its publications include “Multicultural Communities Guidelines for Library Services.”

Another international conference venue of interest is WIPCE, the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education. Held every third year, recent WIPCE conferences have taken place in Hawaii (1999), Canada (2002), and Aotearoa/New Zealand (2005).

The Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI) is hosting the next WIPCE in Melbourne, Australia from 7 to 11 December 2008. WIPCE conferences attract thousands of delegates interested in all aspects of education for Native peoples around the globe. WIPCE program events include council meetings, programs, poster sessions, cultural presentations, musical/performance events, and local tours/field visits. A few tribal librarians attend each WIPCE conference.

National Efforts to Further Indigenous Library Services: From Demographics to Federal Support

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 4.3 million people in the United States (1.5 percent of the total population) reported that they were American Indian or Alaska Native. The ten tribal groups with the largest memberships are, in ranked order, the Cherokee, Navajo, Sioux, Chippewa, Choctaw, Pueblo, Apache, Lumbee, Iroquois, and Creek. Note that the names used to refer to these tribes reflect federal naming tradition rather than Indian community preferences. For example, the Sioux might prefer to be recognized by their language groups, the Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota. Chippewa is a treaty name for people who may prefer to be called Ojibwe or Anishinabe. The Pueblo is the collective term used for many unique communities such as the Pueblos of Jemez, Taos, and Ysleta. And the Iroquois is the name of a confederacy of five tribes: the Cayuga, Mohawk, Onandaga, Oneida, and Seneca.

Other demographics are worth noting. When compared with the total U.S. population, the U.S. Native population is a younger one; the median age of the U.S. population is 35.4 years while the median age of the Native population is 28.5 years. Within the Native population, one third are younger than 18 years of age and only 5.6 percent are aged 65 and older. Examining age for the total U.S. population shows that a only a quarter (25.6 percent) are under 18, while twice as many (12.4 percent) are 65 or older compared to the U.S. Native population. Fewer Native people are married (45 percent) when compared with the general U.S. population (52.5 percent) and the number of family members is larger (3.06 people per household compared with 2.59 people). Twice as many non-Native Americans complete four year college/university degrees: 24.4 percent as compared with 11.5 percent, although slightly more Native people complete high school (29.2 percent compared with 28.6 percent) and up to two years of college (30.2 percent compared with 27.4 percent).

U.S. Census data also provide information about employment. Fewer Native men (65.6 percent compared to 70.7 percent) are in the labor force. Fewer Native workers are in management, professional, and related fields (24.3 percent compared with 33.6 percent) and more (20.6 percent compared with 14.9 percent) are in service fields. The average income for all U.S. workers is $37,057 while only $28,919 for Native workers. Twice as many Native people (25.7 percent compared to 12.4 percent) live in poverty. Nearly two-thirds, 64.1 percent, of Native peoples live away from Indian country in off-reservation lands in rural or urban areas.

This general picture provides the framework for where tribal libraries operate. The remainder of this paper largely addresses library services for the 36 percent of Native peoples that live in homeland areas. One largely untapped and/or unreported area of library development is library service for urban Indians.

A leader in supporting U.S. library development is the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS provides several categories of funding targeted for tribal libraries or museums. In addition, tribal libraries can submit grant proposals under the other grant programs. Each tribe can apply for a one-year Native American Library Services Basic Grant. These noncompetitive grants are awarded to tribes that develop a three-year library plan and submit an annual evaluation. They are noncompetitive because the grant amounts are equally divided among the successful applicants. In 2006, fifty-five $5,000 Basic Grants and one hundred sixty-nine $6,000 Basic Grants with Educational/Assessment Options were awarded. The $5,000 grants support general library services such as the collections, materials and supplies, and small equipment purchases. Librarians can apply the $1,000 Education/Assessment Option to fund continuing education events including conferences or to fund the work of a consultant. Tribal libraries may continue to receive the annual Basic Grants if they apply by the deadline and submit annual reports that summarize how they expended the funds.

In addition to these noncompetitive Basic Grants, IMLS funds a competitive grant program for tribal libraries called the Enhancement Grants. Tribes submit proposals for projects funded for up to $150,000 over two years. About a dozen grants are awarded in any given year; successful applicants propose model and/or innovative projects and partnerships.

The Native Hawaiian Library Services Grant program, separate from the Basic and Enhancement Grants, is open to non-profit organizations that provide services for Native Hawaiians. ALU LIKE, Inc. of Honolulu, Hawaii has received this grant of $340,000 to $496,000 each year since 1998.

In addition to these targeted grant programs, tribal librarians may apply for funding through the other IMLS programs including the Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program, the Laura Bush 21 st Century Library Program, and National Leadership Grants.

IMLS grant recipients are selected through a blind review process. Reviewers are selected through an application process and are financially compensated for their services. IMLS issues a call for reviewers to help select the Enhancement Grant recipients. Grant recipients are identified on the website. News about grant-funded projects may be shared at national and state conferences, in state library publications, and on the project websites.

The American Indian Library Association (AILA) is the national organization dedicated to library services for Native peoples. AILA meets twice a year at the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference and hosts an active electronic list that members use to maintain communication between meetings. Its appointed officers include a President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, and Past-President; it is guided by an Executive Board and has continuing and ad hoc committees. AILA publishes a print-only quarterly newsletter, organizes annual programs at ALA Annual, works on collaborations with the other four ethnic library associations affiliated with ALA, and responds to requests from ALA, AILA members, other librarians, and the public at large. AILA sponsors the Honoring Our Elders Award, a Distinguished Service Award, a Library School Scholarship, and a new Native American Youth Services Literature Award. AILA was involved in planning and delivering the first Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) held in Dallas, Texas in October 2006. The AILA Executive Board unanimously approved supporting a second to take place in another three years.

Several units within ALA are involved with American Indian library issues. These include the Library Services to American Indians SubCommittee of the Advisory Committee for the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, established in the 1970s, and the more recently established ALA Council Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds.

Those involved and/or interested in tribal librarianship may attend other national meetings. One national gathering for Native librarians is the annual invitation-only Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute. Held annually for over ten years, the tribal librarians gather on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman or, occasionally, in Washington, D.C. if additional funding is available. The annual Sequoyah Research Center Symposium is held on the campus of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock (UALR). This small gathering provides an opportunity for Native academics, students, writers, and community members to update each other on their efforts and support UALR on its efforts in developing its American Native Press Archives. Two national conferences on tribal museums, libraries, and archives have been held in 2002 and 2005. Funded through IMLS, these events afforded tribal information specialists with opportunities to network, share information, and take the first steps in starting collaborations. The first national conference focused on including tribal community members. The second conference provided opportunities for students and new graduates to highlight their work and hosted a poster session event for librarians receiving IMLS tribal libraries Enhancement Grants. A third national conference will take place in Oklahoma in October 2007.

Statewide Efforts to Support Tribal Library Development

Within the United States, state governments greatly impact local developments. The emergence of state library systems stemmed from the first federal legislation affecting libraries starting with the Library Services Act of the mid-1950s. State libraries often are strong influences on library development. This is largely due to their process of distributing federal funding; acceptance of federal support is predicated upon the state library writing strategic state-wide plans.

Several states, most notably New Mexico and Arizona, have formalized support of tribal library development. The New Mexico State Library and the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records have both employed statewide tribal library consultants. In New Mexico the Tribal Libraries Program (TLP) provides annual grants to tribal public libraries, an annual Tribal Libraries Leadership Institute, onsite technology support, training, and consulting support.

Tribal library concerns are also evident in several state library associations or chapters of the American Library Association. The Native American Libraries Special Interest Group (NALSIG) of the New Mexico Library Association hosts meetings nearly every month, often on site at tribal libraries. The Arizona Library Association addresses tribal library concerns through its Services to Diverse Populations Special Interest Group. Tribal librarians in Arizona also organize several statewide meetings a year. The Alaska Library Association has an Alaska Native Issues Round Table, and the California Library Association has a Native Libraries Round Table.


Tribal libraries face a number of challenges, often including low financial support, limited resources, and geographic isolation. Tribal librarians are not always invited to the table, especially where critical, time-sensitive grant-funded initiatives are concerned. Tribal librarians have to be ever vigilant that their services are recognized so that they are included in programs that involve language recovery, cultural mapping, use of information technology, and cultural heritage programs. It may be up to all of us to help ensure that tribal communities have the information to choose the right path for their futures. The library can provide the social space for tribal members to consider how to make and implement this decision leading to the lighting of the eighth fire. The library as an archives and museum can document the path taken and the record of the impact of this decision.



“American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Data and Links.” Available at Accessed on 3 September 2006.

“California State Library Team Members Reach Out to Native American Tribal Libraries and California’s Native American Population.” Available at Accessed on 18 September 2006.

“Indigenous Library Services Special Issue,” World Libraries 12 (1) (Spring 2002). Also available at Accessed on 10 September 2006.

“ Institute of Museum and Library Services.” Available at . Accessed on 1 March 2007.

“International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.” Available at Accessed on 10 September 2006.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Section on Library Services to Multicultural Populations. “Multicultural Communities Guidelines for Library Services.” 2 nd ed., rev. Available at Accessed on 18 September 2006.

“ New Mexico State Library.” Available at Accessed on 10 September 2006.

Ogunwole, Stella U. We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. Census 2000 Special Reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, 2006.

Roy, Loriene. “The International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum: A Professional Life Affirming Event,” World Libraries 10 (1/2) (Spring/Fall 2000): 19-30.

Roy, Loriene. “Second International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum,” International Leads 15 (4) (December 2001): 6.

“ Sequoyah Research Center. American Native Press Archives.” Available at Accessed on 10 September 2006.

“Sister Libraries.” Available at Accessed on 18 September 2006.

Webster, Kelly, ed. Library Services to Indigenous Populations: Viewpoints & Resources. Chicago: American Library Association, Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, 2005.

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