Monday 2 July 2012

Creative & Critical Archives

I’d like to piggyback onto my 17 June 2012 blog posting about re-imagining the archive through the recognition of the complexities that exist there and within our own stories and contested histories.  With this in mind, let’s look closely at the Stories of Arizona’s Tribal Libraries: An Oral History Project, which I am co-directing with Sandy Littletree, Knowledge River Program Manager through the University of Arizona.

Stories of Arizona's Tribal Libraries ~ shortened highlight video from Knowledge River on Vimeo.

The Stories of Arizona’s Tribal Libraries: An Oral History Project is the first of its kind to collect the stories of the development and impact of tribal libraries within tribal communities.  This project was designed in collaboration with tribal librarians throughout Arizona in order to embody the relevance, respect, and reciprocity that each tribal community desired and found necessary throughout the entire process of proposal approval, oral history question development, interview scheduling, oral history acquisition, and continued virtual dissemination.  Since storytelling is a valuable and shared process, this project re-imagines how each tribal community’s unique perspectives can enhance the broader understandings of the roles of libraries, archives, and museums in community contexts.  Utilizing Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s “25 Projects” from her 1999 book, Decolonizing Methodologies:  Research and Indigenous Peoples, as a guide to understanding the possibilities, pitfalls, and potentials of working with and for nondominant communities, the key to this project’s success is its emphasis on respectful and reciprocal collaboration with Arizona’s tribal librarians themselves. 

Now in its second year, the purpose of this unique oral history project is to directly address the need to capture the history and the development of tribal libraries as well as demonstrate that these libraries are indeed a vital and valuable part of the community and the state of Arizona.  Advocacy for libraries of all types often includes a way to inform stakeholders and community members about the value of libraries.  While many resources and media have been developed for mainstream public libraries, few have been developed to specifically address the value and role of tribal libraries.  The Project was envisioned to be useful for educating the public about the value of tribal libraries, to capture the history and development of these libraries and their service to their unique communities, and to encourage a new generation of Native Americans to consider librarianship as a future profession.

Between September 2010 and September 2011, we traveled to four tribal nations to conduct the interviews: San Carlos Apache Nation (09/30/10); Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation (04/18/11); Colorado River Indian Tribes (08/26/11); and Ak-Chin Indian Community (09/12/11). We hosted one tribal librarian in Tucson, who gave a presentation of the history of his library on the University of Arizona campus. We have interviewed 18 people and collected over 14 hours of video.  All clips have been edited, compressed, and are streaming through our Vimeo channel for online viewing.  We currently have 294 video clips streaming that highlight the challenges and successes each library has in terms of programming, language revitalization, technologies, patrons, place, location, collaboration, working with U.S. government entities, and much more.  Just in the past week, we have had 339 loads/plays of this streaming video oral history collection.  

Our next steps will be to transcribe all oral history interviews and work with each tribal community to establish a comprehensive web presence that meets the needs of the tribal communities while also fulfilling our goals to educate people about tribal libraries and their roles in our communities.  By increasing the visibility and availability of these unique oral history interviews streaming on the Internet, tribal communities are able to tell their stories while also sharing in other’s storytelling processes.  This exchange goes beyond the tribal communities and into the general population.  As a starting point, this project can open up new conversations about the value of all historical records to tell our unique stories while also promoting awareness about the importance of preserving our heritage.  The Stories of Arizona’s Tribal Libraries: An Oral History Project can help to demonstrate the ways that knowledge is produced and consumed within communities while also imparting the need for underrepresented communities to tell their own stories and have a clear role in the process. 

Jamie A. Lee is currently a Doctoral Student in Information Resources and Library Science with a Gender & Women's Studies minor at the University of Arizona where she is actively and passionately studying archives.  ( and (

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