Tribal college libraries: developments and issues
This essay summarizes the history, development and current issues for tribal college libraries in North America, with an emphasis on the United States. The historical creation of tribal college libraries mainly in the United States is outlined, followed by a discussion about the stages of implementation necessary for tribal college library development. A short description of tribal college libraries and an examination of the current issues they face are then presented.
Tribal college libraries in North America have worked alongside tribal colleges for the past fifty years to provide quality higher education to Aboriginal students, as well as valued services to the local Aboriginal community. Tribal college librarians also work to further the acceptance of Aboriginal higher education within the higher education community, and to improve the perception of Aboriginal groups within mainstream culture in general. An examination of tribal college and tribal college library historical developments, as well as institutional developments, further demonstrates the resilience and determination of Aboriginal peoples to overcome obstacles and claim their education. The definition and description of tribal college libraries is vast and varied, which speaks to their dual role as both an academic and a public library. Tribal college libraries also must constantly deal with numerous issues that stem from their institution and their particular community, in order to meet their mandate to contribute to Aboriginal education and communities as a whole.
Historically, library services for Aboriginal populations have failed to act as culturally significant and supportive institutions (Edwards, 2005, p. 17). Though often well-intentioned, collections were built with little consideration towards including materials about Aboriginal cultures, languages and history, and often were based on reading for recreation as opposed to academic learning (Edwards, 2005). The development of tribal colleges was an attempt to solve the poor educational provisions offered to Aboriginals in the past (Metoyer-Duran, 1991).
Aboriginal education began as Christian-run boarding and mission schools in the mid-1800s, motivated by a desire to assimilate the Aboriginal population into American culture (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Metoyer-Duran, 1991). As early as 1911, the development of an Aboriginal university was suggested, and by the 1960s both the United States government and Aboriginal leaders began lobbying for changes to legislation which would help create and maintain tribal colleges (Metoyer-Duran, 1991). Aboriginal communities were often geographically isolated, and higher education opportunities were often located far from the community, leading to low retention rates of Aboriginal students in other universities and colleges (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004). These other schools also presented cultural differences, as well as distinct differences in teaching methods and learning styles between ‘western’ and Aboriginal groups, and were not seen as desirable options (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Patterson & Taylor, 1996). Aboriginal communities began to see the need for a local forum to discuss community and tribal issues and the desire to strengthen the tribe through academic learning, vocational training and cultural preservation (Patterson & Taylor, 1996, p. 318). Eventually control would pass from religious and government agencies to Aboriginal communities, a movement spurred by the desire of Aboriginal populations themselves to control the future of their own higher education, and to overcome current educational obstacles (Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996).
The first tribal college finally opened in 1968 in Arizona, the development of which represents the determination of native peoples to achieve academic excellence rooted in cultural traditions (Metoyer-Duran, 1991, p. 395). In 1971, the Navajo Community College Act (Public Law 92-189) was passed by the American federal government, which assured federal support and funding for future tribal colleges and led the way for other colleges to be established (Bernholz & Lindvall, 2005; Metoyer-Duran, 1991, 1992). Following this significant development, the Indian Education Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-318) and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638) aided tribal college development (Bernholz & Lindvall, 2005). The Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-471), which provides federal funding based on the number of full-time students enrolled in a college (Patterson & Taylor, 1996), became paramount to a tribal colleges survival since most tribal colleges depend on the act to meet over 80% of their costs (Metoyer-Duran, 1991, 1992). Also founded were the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) in 1972, to address the developmental problems of tribal colleges, and the American Indian College Fund (AICF) in 1989, to assist students in tribal colleges with financial burdens (Patterson & Taylor, 1996).
These significant developments to government policy, especially concerning financial considerations, contributed to the establishment of numerous tribal colleges in the 1970s and the 1980s. Furthermore, in 1994, tribal colleges were also given land grant status through the Equity in Educational Land Grant Status Act, and in 2002, former President George W. Bush established the Presidents Board of Advisors on Tribal Colleges and Universities and the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities (Ynez Sklar, 2003). Currently there are about forty tribal colleges in the United States and Canada, and a few others operating in Australia and New Zealand (Montana State University, 2009).
The development of tribal college libraries follows the ongoing establishment of tribal colleges since the 1960s, as almost all tribal colleges have libraries (Webster, 2005). Metoyer-Duran (1991; summarized by Pavel, 1992) identified four stages of tribal college and parallel tribal college library development. The first stage, called the New Venture Stage, pertains to the college itself putting effort into defining goals and population, developing curriculum and other requirements such as staffing and facilities, as well as creating the budget and other support systems. At this stage, librarians will define goals and identify necessary resources to support the curriculum and community, and work on creating the tribal archive. Next, during the Expansion Stage, tribal colleges work on obtaining necessary monetary, physical, material and human resources necessary to serve the population. Student recruitment and staff retention occurs, alliances are formed with community and health agencies and the college prepares for accreditation. Libraries must deal with the limited resources allocated to them, yet aim to provide necessary academic and community programming. It is at this stage that a lack of technology and professional staff becomes evident.
The third stage, the Professionalizing Stage, involves further building the tribal colleges management and infrastructure while reevaluating goals and responsibilities. The curriculum and support available to the community broadens to fulfill accreditation requirements. The tribal college increasingly depends on the library for resources and services, and will build up the library toward accreditation standards. Accreditation is important and assists the tribal college in defining its programs and purposes, and increases its acceptance amongst other higher education institutions. To help with accreditation, the library philosophy must reflect the goals and objectives of the tribal college; areas such as staff, collection, services, programs, facilities and finances must be appropriate and of a high quality, and the use of library services by the larger tribal community must be evident.
During the last stage, Consolidation, the tribal college works on advancing the college culture, securing future funding, becoming recognized amongst other educational communities, and increasing the visibility and scholarly presence of faculty, which at this point should reflect the Aboriginal make-up of the community. The tribal college library will help add to the recognition of the college, and can also assist with forming cooperative ties with other educational institutions, consortium and networks. At this time, the library will also strive to expand its staffing, collection, archives, services and facilities to serve both the student population and the local reservation. Hiring professional librarians, assisting faculty and their research aims and improving management and technical systems are also key elements of this stage. At the end of these stages, if the tribal college and library are successful partners, accreditation will have been met.
Support networks for tribal college librarians have also developed in order to assist staff with meeting these developmental stages, and to offset their isolation and lack of professional development opportunities and social support (Thull, 2006). The American Indian Library Association (AILA) has been providing resources, sponsoring an annual conference and publishing the quarterly American Indian Libraries Newsletter since 1979 (Thull, 2008b). Also, in 1990, the Tribal College Librarians Institute (TCLI) was developed to provide networking and professional development opportunities to tribal college library staff through its organization of a listserv and popular annual conference, which is attended by delegates from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Montana State University, 2009; Patterson & Taylor, 1996; Roy & Smith 2002; Thull, 2006, 2008b). In 2004, the Tribal College and University Library Association (TCULA) was formed to help create standards for tribal college libraries and to strengthen the voice of tribal college librarians (Thull, 2008b; Webster, 2005). Tribal college libraries may also participate in state- or region-wide consortiums and resource sharing programs with other tribal and non-tribal libraries (Metoyer-Duran, 1992; Pavel, 1992). All of these support networks help tribal college librarians to collaborate and to advocate, to preserve and to acknowledge tribal culture (Webster, 2005).
Tribal colleges are managed by tribal councils and may be described as the educational, social, and economic cores of the reservations and towns in which they are located they are involved in almost every aspect of local community life, ranging from the provision of public services to the nurturing of traditional values and beliefs (as cited in Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002, p. 306). These colleges are tied to community life, provide common ground for tribal members to gather and may be the most stable organization on the reservation (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004). Most tribal colleges offer two-year diploma programs, often with an emphasis on Aboriginal studies (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002; Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996), and a small number offer four-year Bachelors degrees, with only a couple offering Masters programs (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Patterson & Taylor, 1996). Tribal colleges tend to have smaller enrollment, up to a few thousand students, and smaller available student pools than other colleges and universities (Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996). They are usually commuter colleges, with most of the students living nearby on the reservation; tribal colleges rarely have residence accommodation (Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996).
The goals of tribal colleges include preserving and communicating tribal culture, enhancing economic opportunities, improving health care through alcohol and drug education, preparing students for transfer to other colleges and universities, facilitating literacy development and career and skill upgrading and supporting personal and social activities (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Metoyer-Duran, 1991). It is imperative that the policies of tribal colleges reflect the goal of integrating native culture into the curriculum (Metoyer-Duran, 1991, p. 397). Tribal college libraries help their parent institutions to meet these goals by providing a variety of collections and services to the varied population they serve, as well as the housing, display and preservation of tribal collections and archives (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004). The support of a tribal college library also helps their parent institutions acquire or keep accreditation, as a tribal college is unlikely to receive accreditation status without a well-functioning library (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Thull, 2008a).
The users of a tribal college library include college students, faculty and administrators, local researchers and community members from the reservation (Metoyer-Duran, 1992; Thull, 2008a). Holdings in a tribal college library include archives, tribal records, print and nonprint recreational and scholarly library holdings, community information resources and other non-tribal resources (Metoyer-Duran, 1992). As such holdings must reflect the librarys varied audience, critical decisions must be made when choosing materials for the general public versus for college curriculum, especially when faced with prevalent budget limitations (Thull, 2008a). Due to geographic remoteness, tribal college libraries may act as the only local public library (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Thull, 2008a) and extra financial support may be acquired for public library services, facilities, training and materials from the Library Services for Indian Tribes Program, Title IV of the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) (Pavel, 1992). Even if a close public or other academic library is available, many members of the tribe feel more comfortable using a tribal college library, due to the absence of apparent cultural differences in this setting (Thull, 2008a).
Tribal colleges work with local schools to provide early years and at-risk intervention programs, as well as secondary school transfer programs and adult education opportunities, and provide counseling and health services for the tribe (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004). Often the library will remain open outside of college hours to facilitate interaction with local schools and other community groups to increase educational and health achievement (Pavel, 1992), and may include sections for schools, children and health care resources on their website (Thull, 2008a). A tribal college library may also be the only source of internet access for community members, and the provision of computers, online resources and other technology is paramount in order to facilitate a tribes lifelong learning, literacy and information literacy skills (Thull, 2008a).
Tribal college libraries also contain materials important to the history and current interests of the tribe (Metoyer-Duran, 1992). The housing and maintenance of tribal archives and records is often critical for use in tribal litigations, and archival information may also assist the college in curriculum development for tribal history and preservation of the language (Metoyer-Duran, 1992, p. 366). Libraries may facilitate oral history projects to complement their tribal archive (Metoyer-Duran, 1992; Thull, 2008a). This also enables the library to actively involve community members, especially elders, which in turn benefits the entire community (Pavel, 1992). Traditional classes, celebrations or demonstrations of culturally significant practices may also take place within the library (Thull, 2008a).
Due to the small size of tribal college libraries, staff must perform a variety of tasks (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002). Staff members may be involved in numerous tribe and non-tribe educational programs both within and outside of the college that effectively link their parent institutions with their tribal community (Pavel, 1992). They also assist tribal economic development through programs and grant opportunities (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Pavel, 1992). As a tribe may rely on grants from private or federal agencies, the library may be instrumental in providing grant writing resources and assistance, as well as business courses or resources (Metoyer-Duran, 1992; Pavel, 1992). Thus, business, career, traditional, childrens and other related literacy and community outreach programs and collections are an important part of tribal college library services, along with academic curriculum and scholarly support (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004).
Tribal college libraries face similar issues as other libraries, though from the context of the Aboriginal environment within which they function. These issues include problem patrons, the public versus academic functions of the library, inadequate space and facilities, administrative politics, limited staffing and problems with recruitment and funding constraints (Bernholz & Lindvall, 2005; Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002; Thull, 2008a). Like all other libraries, tribal college librarians must deal with various problems with patrons such as students not making use of the librarys resources, out-of-control overdue fines, computer misuse, lack of parental supervision of young children and a lack of community support for the library (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002, 2004). As tribal college libraries operate as both community and academic libraries, this places additional burdens on collection development, staff and budgets (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002; Patterson & Taylor, 1996).
While many tribal college libraries are relatively new, others have to deal with space limitations, inadequate facilities and outdated technology (Patterson & Taylor, 1996; Thull, 2008a). Libraries may also not have control over the colleges library website or technology supplied to the library, which hinders programming and the development of possible advantageous learning tools (Rieke, 2005). Dilevko & Gottlieb (2002, 2004) also note a variety of other problems that stem from issues with tribal college administration. These issues include nepotism with regards to higher level positions and resource allocations, competition between different campuses of a college in terms of funds, resources and tribal politics. Library directors cited tribal politics as the most frequent reason why they might choose to leave their current job (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002), and this sentiment was also present amongst other levels of staff (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004).
One major issue tribal college libraries must deal with is staffing. Due to their remoteness and geographical isolation, low salaries, poor benefits and large workloads, tribal college libraries often have trouble recruiting and retaining qualified employees, and usually suffer from a high turnover rate (Dilevko & Gottlieb 2002; Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996; Thull, 2008a). College presidents and library directors recognize the need to have professionally trained staff who not only possess the necessary skills and competencies, but who also are culturally sensitive (Metoyer-Duran, 1992). High turnover rates and untrained staff have a negative effect on the quality of the colleges education, and morale of the students and community, plus may hinder efforts to obtain accreditation (Metoyer-Duran, 1991). Ideally, tribal colleges would like to hire Aboriginal librarians who possess a library and information studies graduate degree; however, it is often difficult to appoint appropriate staff from a limited pool of applicants (Patterson & Taylor, 1996). Non-aboriginal staff may experience racial tension (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002) but would be supported by administration and encouraged to learn about and to embrace local traditions and values; yet many staff and students still would prefer to deal with Aboriginal library staff members (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004). Roy and Smith (2002) state that tribal colleges are ideal settings for promoting librarianship as a professional career [yet] no tribal college offers an American Library Associationaccredited masters degree program or school media center certification (p. 33). Thus library staffing presents numerous issues for not only the library, but also for the tribal college in general.
The biggest issue facing tribal college libraries, and most other colleges and universities and libraries in general, is funding and budgetary constraints. Funding usually comes in the form of federal obligations from treaties, legislation, regional and local laws, private donations, tribal sources and grants, all of which may be unpredictable (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002; Metoyer-Duran, 1991; Patterson & Taylor, 1996). Not only does this cause tribal college libraries to struggle to keep up with non-tribal institutions (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2004; Patterson & Taylor, 1996), but also contributes to staffing issues such as retention, salaries and job insecurity (Dilevko & Gottlieb, 2002, 2004; Metoyer-Duran, 1991). Current and quality technology and other print and nonprint resources, such as online databases, preservation materials and services necessary for expanding curriculum and community programming, are necessary to support the educational and cultural goals of a tribal college library, but unfortunately they require stable and predictable funding (Bernholz & Lindvall, 2005; Metoyer-Duran, 1991). Tribal college libraries must deal with budget freezes, and increasingly have to spend time filling out grant applications and soliciting donors (Thull, 2008a, 2008b). Collection development may be further complicated as patrons prefer books written by Aboriginal authors, which often come at a greater cost (Thull, 2008a), and often libraries must stock material donations that do not fit with their communitys culture (Ambler, 2000). Also, tribal college enrollment is increasing; yet allocated funding has decreased, leaving libraries struggling to keep up with increased demand and usage (Metoyer-Duran, 1991, 1992).
Grant and technical assistance projects and initiatives, such as the Alliance for Community Technology endorsed by former President Bill Clinton in 2000 and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, or those from the AIHEC Technology Committee, are designed to improve online and technical access, which reduces reservation isolation and stimulates economic and community growth (Ambler, 2000). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the federal depository library services are also working to distribute information that is necessary and relevant for tribal communities, such as educational, health related and senior citizen information (Bernholz & Lindvall, 2005; Thull, 2008a). Tribal college librarians also have access to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grants program for Native American Library Services, which provides funding for collection and archives development, preservation, digitization and technology (Webster, 2005). Like funding sources, these programs may be unpredictable, though much appreciated by tribal college libraries.
After examining the description of tribal college libraries, along with their history and developmental stages, it can be clearly be noted they are instrumental in not only preserving traditional culture, but also in encouraging the intellectual, economic, health and social development of the Aboriginal community they serve. Despite the numerous difficulties facing tribal college libraries, they continue to play a vital role in ensuring the educational and cultural survival of tribal communities.
Dilevko, J., & Gottlieb, L. (2002). Making a difference in their own way: The role of library directors and non-directorial staff at tribal college libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28(5), 306.
Montana State University. (2009). The tribal college librarians professional development institute. Retrieved June 6, 2009, from http://www.lib.montana.edu/tcli/
Roy, L., & Arro Smith, A. (2002). Supporting, documenting, and preserving tribal cultural lifeways: Library services for tribal communities in the United States. World Libraries, 12(1). Retrieved June 6, 2009, from http://www.worlib.org/vol12no1/roy_v12n1.shtml
Webster, K., Biggs, B., & American Library Association. Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. (2005). Library services to indigenous populations: Viewpoints and resources. Chicago: Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, American Library Association.
Ynez Sklar, A. (2003). Tribal college library web sites: Provision of health information sources. (Masters thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Retrieved June 6, 2009, from http://ils.unc.edu/MSpapers/2909.pdf
Lisa Shamchuk has a Bachelor of Education and recently completed her Master of Library and Information Studies. Both degrees are from the University of Alberta. She has worked in public, academic, and law libraries in both Canada and England. Her primary interests lie in academic librarianship, particularly in the areas of human resource management, reference services, and information literacy.
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