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Friday, January 3, 2014

Current Issues Facing Tribal College Libraries

Current Issues Facing Tribal College Libraries

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 library's 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many tribal college libraries are relatively new, others have to deal with space limitations, inadequate facilities and outdated technology (Patterson & Taylor, 1996; Thull, 2008a).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 college's 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 college's 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 Association–accredited master's 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 community's 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.