Re-printed with permission
One Canadian Inner City Library:
Answering the Needs of the Community
The 2000 British Columbia Library Conference
Kelowna, British Columbia May 25 - 28, 2000
Albert Library Branch Head - Wendy Sinclair
Albert Community Library Committee Member - Darren Muir
1401 Robinson Street,
Canada S4T 2N7
Phone: 306- 777-6077
Canada has an Aboriginal population of 642,414, almost one-sixth of whom live in the province of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has the largest ratio of Aboriginal to non-aboriginal people in the country. It is estimated that ten years from now, 45% of Saskatchewan's population will be of Aboriginal ancestry, including both First Nations and Metis bloodlines. Over the last five years, Saskatchewan's Aboriginal population increased 33%, while the non-Aboriginal population only grew 6%. There are 72 First Nation Bands in Saskatchewan. In Canada, there are many terms used when referring to Aboriginal people, such as, Indian, Native, First Nation, status, non-status, Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Metis. I had consulted an Aboriginal leader on which word is politically correct; he recommended the term Aboriginal or Indigenous. (I believe the term Indigenous is used more often in international matters)
History of Albert Library
Albert Library has been serving Regina's inner city community since 1913. In 1979, a report written for the Regina Public Library Board recommended reducing the hours of service because circulation levels did not meet library standards for a branch. Community representatives argued that the reason the branch was not being used to its full potential was because it did not meet the needs of the community it served. A First Nations community member stated that she would like to see Aboriginal art work on the walls, library staff to smile at her and to make her feel welcome at the library, and perhaps, even a cup of tea. There was a series of negotiations between the community, represented by the North Central Community Society and the Regina Public Library, represented by then Chief Librarian Ron Yeo. The objective was to find a resolution satisfactory to both the community and the library board. The outcome was a formal agreement between the North Central Community Society and the Regina Public Library Board establishing a community advisory committee for Albert Library. The agreement gave the community an advisory role in the areas of staffing, programming, and collection development. The community library committee was to bring the needs of the community to the branch staff, thus helping to define the services the library provided. This agreement is renewed on an annual basis. The community library committee meets at least ten times annually in order to fulfill the responsibilities set out in the agreement. Circulation and general library usage have increased steadily since the community was given a definitive voice in the operation of the Albert Branch.
The Albert Library Committee
Membership on the Albert Library Committee is open to anyone living or working in the North Central area of Regina. The library committee establishes the collections policy, participates in interviewing for staff hiring, and influences programming. As a result of the library committee's independence from the library system's administration and board, the Albert Library Committee has been able to go to outside funding agencies for support of a number of programs and services over the years. Included in these efforts are:
In 1995, the Albert Library Committee funded and hosted the first Canadian meeting of inner city library patrons and staff. The library committee secured funding for travel, accommodations & meals for the participants. The conference brought inner city library patrons and staff together to discuss the past, present and future of library services to the dynamic communities of Canada's inner city urban landscape. The conference was an unqualified success. Delegates from diverse communities quickly recognized many common patterns about the library services they provided in their community. A second gathering will build on the success and lessons learned from the first gathering. The proposed conference will be co-sponsored by Halifax's North Branch Women's Group and the Albert Library Committee to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The library committee obtained funding for various culturally-based programs. For instance, in 1994, Albert Library received a grant of $10,000 for Aboriginal content programming. Cree classes, Pow Wow dancing, beadwork, cultural awareness, and storytelling were some of the programs offered at the library. The highlight of the year was a field trip to a First Nations heritage park called, Wanuskewin, for inner city children, youth and their parents. Circulation statistics greatly increased during this period.
With the committee's recommendation, gallery space for artists to exhibit their work was established. The branch hosts an annual art exhibition for the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College's Indian Fine Arts Department. The gallery space provides an opportunity for students to promote their work and with the potential to sell their art as well. Albert Library also has Aboriginal art work painted on its exterior walls, created by students of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.
The library committee received a grant to host The Asokhan Storyteller in Residence Project for one year with a First Nations traditional teacher as the resource person. This project integrated storytelling into the library's regular programming; worked with other storytellers from the community; taught young people First Nations' oral history interviewing and collection methods; published material; invited neighborhood schools to participate; and passed along storytelling skills and listening skills to the younger generation. The storyteller-in-residence project also provided an opportunity for members of the community to participate in three day trips to significant First Nations reserves. Included in these day trips, participants were taught various First Nations protocols, i.e. how to pick Sweetgrass.
In 1998, the library committee established a communication centre with free computer access to the community. The computer lab consists of seven new personal computers with Internet connections and one coloured printer. Participants can learn computer skills, typing, word-processing, surf the Internet, play computer games, or send email. There is a paid monitor in the computer lab at all times to provide assistance. One of the library committee's goals is it to bridge the technology gap between those who have computer access and those who do not. Youth are taught computer skills or shown 'cool' web sites 10 - 15 minutes prior to each computer lab sessions. (two youth, who only had access to computers at their school and in this lab, have developed their own web pages) Workshops that were offered for adults have included: word-processing, resumes, Windows 95, typing skills, and how to surf the Internet.
The library committee raised enough funds to send three library committee members and the Branch Head to present a paper at the international conference on "Library Services to Indigenous Peoples" in Tromso Norway, in August 1998.
The library committee also fund-raised to send one library committee member and the Branch Head to present a paper at the International Indigenous Librarians' Forum in Auckland, New Zealand in November 1999. In addition, the library committee produced a video on the branch, the community it serves, and the library committee. The video was produced to be used in the presentation at this forum.
The Albert Branch Library serves the Regina community called North Central. The population in this part of the city is about 10,500, (1996) with one third of the population being of Aboriginal ancestry - First Nations, Metis and non status. The Aboriginal population continues to increase rapidly, as families move from rural areas to the city. Ninety percent of Albert Library's patrons are of Aboriginal ancestry. There are pockets of poor housing, poverty, low literacy, youth and seniors at risk. A segment of the population earns income outside the formal marketplace. The largest age group in North Central is between 25 - 29 years. The number of children between 0 - 4 years of age is the second largest age group in the neighborhood. The majority of the houses in the community were built before 1946, which may mean poor housing which, in turn, may explain the high transient rate.
The staff includes the Albert Branch Head, one full time Library Assistant, one part time Library Assistant, two part time Public Services Clerks, and one part time Page. The Page position, when not filled internally, is posted at the local high school, Scott Collegiate. Albert prefers to hire community people for staff and for program resource people. Such people usually have a better understanding and knowledge of the North Central community and of Aboriginal people. On all of the Albert Branch Library's job descriptions, one of the required qualifications listed is "knowledge of native culture and language".
From my experience, a native person approaches another native person differently; than with a non-aboriginal person. A native person will often ask for my name (wants to know last name) and where I am from (which band I belongs to) to identify my family roots).
The Branch Head is directed to attend and participate in organizations based in the North Central community and report monthly activities to the library committee. For example, the Branch Head is a member of the Board of the Street Culture Kidz Project, thus enabling her to promote Albert Library programming and encourage use of library resources. Being involved in the community first-hand, with others who are working in the neighborhood, and with community residents, has enhanced the work of the library in its day-to-day operations. Meeting and working with the library staff outside the library building has reduced the "institutional" view of the library in the community.
The best way to understand any community is to become a part of that community. My staff and I keep our fingers on the pulse of the neighborhood by attending meetings and socializing with the patrons. The concerns of the community are the concerns of the library staff because most of them live in the community the branch serves. In addition, staff are given tours of community agencies, so that they are knowledgeable about groups in the area and who they serve. This keeps the staff informed about the different resources available in the community and to network in order to better serve the community's individuals.
I chair a provincial committee that deals with library services for the Aboriginal peoples of Saskatchewan. This committee hosted a number of conferences and workshops over the past few years. For instance, in 1996 when the federal government purchased Pentium computers for all the band schools in Canada, this provincial committee offered Internet training to the band school/library staff in Saskatchewan.
Libraries and the Community
(Reflections of Chief Lafond at the Library Services for Saskatchewan's Aboriginal Peoples Conference in Saskatoon, November 1992)
Elders are know for their knowledge to educate. They become walking, talking libraries and carriers of information about the culture. Knowledge carriers include herbalists, medicine people, pipe carriers, people who carry medicine bundles or sacred scrolls, and keepers of winter counts. The problem is to redefine libraries to make this knowledge accessible to the public.
Libraries have the potential to empower people. They can be places for the intentional planned use of resources, and for groups of people in the community doing planning with respect, critical reflection, and caring. Libraries can provide information so people can learn to learn; so that they will know about what 's happening in the government, etc.; and so that they will begin asking questions.
The community library should become an empowering tool. It should have a visible collection and serve as a place to keep and protect the history of the people. A strong, well functioning library can serve as a cultural revitalization centre as well as a centre for language retention. The library must become a place where Elders will feel safe and comfortable so that they will be able to act as the living libraries that they are and pass on cultural information to the community.
Because the Albert Library serves a community with a high Aboriginal population, Aboriginal protocol workshops are held for staff. These workshops create awareness and an understanding of the First Nations traditions and culture.
Albert provides a collection of adult and juvenile items focusing on Aboriginal peoples. When the community committee started working with the Albert Library in 1980, the Regina Public Library's collection of duplicate Aboriginal titles was transferred to Albert, thus enhancing Albert's existing collection. Although some of the Aboriginal titles are duplicated in other locations of the library system, it is only at Albert that they are identified as an Aboriginal collection. The Aboriginal collection includes fiction and non-fiction titles, cassettes, periodicals, vertical files, Cree language material, and a number of National Film Board videos. The Cree language material consists of workbooks, cassettes, dictionaries, flashcards and children's picture books. This material is suitable in content and format for all age groups, for there are a lot of adult patrons who wish to learn or re-learn their ancestral language. Albert's extensive Aboriginal collection has become a resource used by patrons across the city. Albert also has a regular library collection which features current, high demand, high interest materials in mostly a paperback format for both adult and juvenile patrons. The collection budget is part of the annual budgeting cycle.
Albert Library's main focus is to create programming that develops knowledge and understanding of the diverse cultural groups in Regina, while highlighting the Aboriginal community. Branch programs deal with culture, traditions, and current issues. These include an annual children's feast, beadwork classes, dreamcatcher programs, Cree language classes, storytelling, pow wow dance classes, Aboriginal author readings, incorporation of First Nation stories in the puppet shows at the branch, classes on how to make Inuit moccasins, mitts and vests, and programs on cultural awareness.
Albert concentrates on children's programming because of the large number of children who visit the branch on a daily basis. Programming that appeals to youth encourages this age group to become regular library users, thus this may have the potential to instill the love of books in children. The majority of the youth who participate in the library programs are 6 - 14 years old.
The branch also offers regular pre-school storytime sessions to the local child care centres, Aboriginal Headstart programs, and the local elementary schools. Seven to eleven preschool sessions are offered per week. The Library Assistants often have to turn down requests for additional sessions due to scheduling difficulties.
The branch hosted a video project for ten students from the local high school with a well know Aboriginal film producer, Alanis Obomsawin. The students produced a short horror movie called 'Library 13'.
Albert Library has an Aboriginal Elder to consult with regarding Aboriginal content programming, and to advise on the best protocol for carrying out those programs.
Albert Library's Spiritual Colors
In honor of Albert's 80th anniversary in September, 1993, an Elder presented the branch with four First Nations spiritual colors: Green, representing summer and renewal; White, representing winter and purity; Blue, representing spring, sky, water, wisdom, and knowledge; and Orange, representing autumn and the branch being open in the evenings after sunset.
An interesting comment by Chief Harry Lafond, from the Muskeg Lake Band: Native people are beginning to forget about their past. We need libraries to provide information about the past and present of all aspects of Indian life, and to replace the lost custom of storytelling and telling of exploits at the council fire, and so forth. The formal school system may not teach the Native person what he needs to know about himself; his treaty rights, his unique constitutional positions in Canada, and his history. There is a movement among Native people to become more aware of their past, their heritage and in the revival of arts and crafts, dances, legends, and their languages. Libraries are tools which Native people can use to help change their conditions where desirable and to maintain and strengthen their cultural resources.
The Albert Library provides a basic library service enhanced by an in-depth Aboriginal collection, and culturally based programming. The branch also provides a safe environment for neighborhood children and youth.
The branch staff regularly liaise with community groups to network, to keep in touch with what is happening in the community, to be a partner in community development issues, and to promote library services.
Albert Library strives to remain an informational and cultural resource that is an essential asset to the community. The branch's focus is to have more parent and caregivers become involved in the library. Staff feel that once a person visits the branch, s/he will notice that Albert Library is much more than a book depository. It is a vital part of the community it serves.
Mr. Sandy Cameron, who was a member of the Albert Library Committee from its inception once stated "Albert Library is not special, we are a model of how any branch library should operate".
In closing, it is the community who gives us our direction on how this library will best serve it, and this is what the Albert Branch strives to accomplish.
What libraries can do to encourage First Nation peoples to use libraries:
- Network as much as possible in the community you serve.
- Publicize library services and programming - Be visible
Suggestions on where to network to promote library services:
- parent council meetings
- school and community newsletters
- community associations and local agencies
- Friendship Centres
- Band offices
- schools and post secondary centres
- offer programming to local child care centres and schools.
- Establish a community committee to determine what they need and want. Focus on unique solutions that respond to the community's view of what will work.
- Build your library collection to focus on First Nations content, i.e. art, history, periodicals, language, legends, crafts (beading), and music.
- Provide programming with First Nations content.
- Hire First Nations as resource people for programming and to conduct protocol workshops.
- Consult with Elders. Ask permission first to speak with him/her. Remember to offer tobacco.
- Consult with Tribal Councils or Band representatives for input.
- Hire First Nation people to work in the library.
- Provide cross cultural awareness training for library workers.