California State Library team members reach out to Native American Tribal Libraries and California's Native American population

California has more Native American residents than any other state. The US Census Bureau's American Indian and Alaska Native Population census brief released in February 2002 reported 333,346 Native American residents in California, followed by Oklahoma with 273,230. The census also reported that Los Angeles has the nation’s second largest urban Indian population with 29,412 Indian residents, behind New York City. California is also home to 109 federally recognized tribes, more than any other state.

Tribal librarians serve California Native American tribes through their often-struggling tribal libraries. California tribal libraries exist in varied configurations and locations. Some are housed in Indian education centers, tribal government offices, cultural centers, and some have dedicated space or buildings. Many tribes without traditional libraries have plans for libraries as resources become available. Many California tribes are located in remote areas where outside resources are often not readily available to the community.

Behind every tribal library are dedicated librarians intently and creatively fighting to meet the information needs of their communities. Resources are often a patchwork of grants, fund raising efforts, librarians’ personal support, solicited donations and support from tribal governments. Many of their professional duties extend beyond their libraries to education centers, tribal governments, employment training and development, social services, literacy, early childhood development, and beyond. Some tribal libraries have formed unique relationships with university libraries, public libraries, public schools and State Libraries. They share resources, provide programming and bookmobile services, network, share knowledge and provide moral support.

Inventories of California’s Tribal Libraries

Bonnie Biggs, former president of the American Indian Library Association and, current Professor Emeritus and Tribal Liaison at California State University at San Marcos, has worked with southern California tribes for more than 20 years. Biggs developed and conducted a tribal library census and needs assessment of the 37 tribes that reside in the Tierra Del Sol Regional Library Network, which includes the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Inyo, Riverside and Imperial. Biggs’ work resulted in the Tribal Library Census and Needs Assessment Project – Final Report that was submitted to the California State Library (CSL) in June 2001. The report showed that, to address tribal libraries’ needs, efforts were needed to improve access and strengthen cooperative activities, and to develop state and local partnerships. Further, there was a need to identify model programs for Native American libraries and information services that could be replicated in California.

In another effort Kim Johnston-Dodds, Senior Policy Analyst, and Susan Hanks, Legislative Research Librarian, at the California Research Bureau (CRB), a CSL division that provides specialized research services to the Legislature, Governor, and other elected state officials, were undertaking efforts similar to Biggs’. Kim Johnston-Dodds, working with Hanks, CSL and California State Archives staff, was responding to a request by former Senator John L. Burton. Dodds’ research resulted in the report: Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians (PDF document), that was published in 2002.

In response to the Tribal Library census and as a result of the research done for the Early California Laws report, Johnston-Dodds and Hanks began to build a bridge between the CSL and the tribal community. They scheduled visits to start a dialog with California tribes about the tribes’ information needs and began a collaborative effort to start to define how the CSL might form partnerships to best meet these needs and also inform the tribal community about the services and materials available through the CSL.

To date Johnston-Dodds and Hanks have traveled to 20 counties from Del Norte and Modoc to Imperial and San Diego Counties to meet with tribal officials, libraries, education centers, and/or cultural centers. They have visited 51 public libraries, parks, and museums in 27 counties to compile information about Native Californians that is available in public venues routinely visited by students, teachers, and the general public. As much as possible they have purchased information resources (local press books, curricula, and historical materials) to supplement CSL collections, providing increased access to them statewide (through interlibrary loan). And, along the way they have had the good fortune of crossing paths with Bonnie Biggs, who has become an advisor and an endless inspiration on the subject of tribal library outreach.

California Tribal Librarians

Tribal librarians do not have the established networks most California librarians take for granted. Most of the state’s libraries are part of bigger networks: public library systems; library consortiums; professional organizations including the California Library Association, the American Library Association, and Special Libraries Association; library cooperatives; and universities. Further, many of these partnerships are regional which is not the case with tribal libraries. Tribal library networking in California has just recently gone statewide.

Bonnie Bigg’s close work with the tribal library community led to the establishment of the first California Library Association’s Native Libraries Round Table on November 15, 2003. As a result, tribal librarians have their own listserv, sponsored through the California State University at San Marcos, to encourage the sharing of information and ideas. Members include individuals and institutions interested in the enhancement and development of programs to improve Native American library, cultural, and information services on and off California’s reservations. The Round Table provides a forum for: networking statewide on the behalf of tribal librarians and others in the library community who share an interest in tribal libraries; advocacy on behalf of tribal libraries on the local, state and national level for legislation, funding and other issues; training and technical assistance for tribal libraries; advising the CSL on Native Libraries’ issues: and to bring together tribal librarians statewide to share experiences and garner support.

Supporting Tribal Libraries and Librarians

New Mexico’s State Library has long worked closely with tribal libraries, providing assistance through funding and training. Historically, the CSL has not had an established partnership with California Tribal Libraries. This summer the CSL and Infopeople sponsored a collaborative training effort for California tribal librarians. A Tribal Library Boot Camp was held in June 2005 at the Pala Reservation in San Diego County. Bonnie Biggs worked with Infopeople to organize and successfully hold the three-day training camp. Twenty tribal librarians attended the training from all over the state. Sessions covered many library topics including cataloging, programming, archiving, book repair and Internet resources. Native American librarians also led discussions addressing tribal libraries' value to tribal governments and the pros and cons of sharing native culture with outsiders.

Liana Juliano, co-chair of the California Library Association's Native Libraries Round Table, posted an article reporting on the Tribal Library Boot Camp on the Association’s web log on August 24, 2005, taken in part from a North County Times article. The article includes comments from some of the tribal librarians attending the training.

Participants gave rave reviews to the Boot Camp. Gary Walker, from Chemhuevi Indian Reservation, was thrilled to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and resources with other librarians. He said, “We are finding out how others are solving the same problems and (resolving) the same concerns we are, and also what the resources are in the public library system and at the state and federal levels.” Doretta Musick, from Pala Library, said the skills they developed from the workshop would make it easier to assist patrons “no matter what the topic.”

State Librarian of California Susan Hildreth, addressing the tribal librarians the last morning of the Boot Camp, expressed the CSL’s interest in promoting a more supportive relationship with California’s tribal libraries. She concluded by presenting certificates of completion to attendees.

Another model for support to tribal libraries is developing in Oregon. On May 25th, 2005 Governor Ted Kulongoski signed HB 2674 (PDF document) , a new state law that adds libraries operated by federally-recognized Oregon Indian tribes to the types of libraries which may apply for and receive grants from the Oregon State Library and participate in interlibrary loan program. The new law is not the final solution in providing support and services to Oregon’s tribal libraries, but it is an important step.


When Hildreth addressed the Boot Camp participants, she said she would like the CSL to investigate opportunities for more tribal library training; for interlibrary loans; and for partnerships between tribal libraries and public libraries. She is currently exploring the most effective avenues to support the activities of tribal libraries. Also, Kim Johnston-Dodds and Susan Hanks will continue their work with tribal libraries on behalf of the CSL to identify information needs and establish ongoing relationships.

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