Bridging the Past and Future: Improving Library Services for the Native American Community
Native American Heritage Month Free Symposium
In November 2021, the San José State University School of Information’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee hosted a symposium in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.
This free symposium featured keynote speakers Dr. Ashley Minner, assistant curator for history and culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; Dr. Kim Sellers, associate professor and program director of graduate reading education at UNC Pembroke; Dr. Duane Yazzie, teacher and reading specialist at Tséhootsooi Diné Bi Ołta’ School, Window Rock, the Navajo Nation; Dr. Malinda Lowery, historian and documentary film producer, who is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina; and Jody Cummings, JD, Office of Legal Counsel for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut.
The keynote speakers made several observations on the challenges facing the Native American community, such as the common assumption that Native Americans are a race that only existed in the past, specifically the 1800’s, their falsified history that has been written by non-Native Americans, the general public being unable to effectively communicate with today’s Native Americans, and much more.
Suggestions on how libraries can successfully acknowledge and assist this underrepresented community were made by Sheila Gurtu, student outreach specialist and iSchool alumna, who has worked closely with the Circle of Learning project; Valerie Kingsland, program manager for the Impact Library Program and Native Library Initiative at the Little Free Library nonprofit; Naomi Bishop, health sciences librarian at the University of Arizona; and Lynette Dial, youth librarian at Hoke County Public Library and project manager for Reading Nation Waterfall.
This discussion included how libraries should add more Native American items to their collections, how library staff should welcome Native Americans as one of their own as opposed to treating them as strangers, effective education services that can benefit the Native American community, and other strategies for success.
Native Americans have a powerful presence in the United States both historically and culturally. Their resilience and creativity offer great learning opportunities for non-Native Americans, and it is important for librarians to be the first to extend a helping and collaborative hand to this important community.
“Bridging the Past and Future: Improving Library Services for the Native American Community” offers tools and strategies for making effective changes in all American libraries.