Barrow’s Living Room: How a Tribal College Library Connects Communities Across the Arctic

Volume 27, No. 1 - Fall 2015
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Ernie Stackhouse (right) volunteers at “The Science of Ice Cream,” a free community program at the Tuzzy Library that combines cooking, chemistry, and creativity. Photo by Anastasiia Sapon

Libraries are at the heart of the tribal college community. More than just storerooms of information, libraries are gathering spaces that bring people together. The Tuzzy Consortium Library at IIisagvik College builds community by providing services and programs that reflect the values of Alaska’s North Slope Iñupiaq people. The college library collaborates with different organizations to provide programming and services for students, children, elders, families, and others. These partnerships allow the library and the college to create meaningful ties that build community.

A collection of North Slope village libraries make up the Tuzzy consortium. The main library is centrally located in Barrow and is both the academic and public library for the town. Consortium libraries in all of the seven other North Slope villages are operated out of the central Barrow location through a memorandum of agreement with the North Slope Borough School District. “Tuzzy Library operates programming across our 89,000 square mile North Slope borough, serving all eight of our Arctic communities,” explains IIisagvik College president Pearl Brower (Iñupiaq). “The services that Tuzzy Library provides support our residents age zero to our most revered elders. Tuzzy Library supports our expanding community and helps to build most important partnerships across generations and across communities.”

Providing services and programs for such a large geographic area would be impossible without cooperation. Paammaagigñiq, the Iñupiaq traditional value of working together, allows the library’s services and programs to extend beyond the building’s walls. In an effort to foster a community of success, the college partners with the local school district and gives village residents access to its resources and online services. Each of the public schools houses a library that serves preschool to high school students during the day, yet is open in the evening and on the weekends to provide access for the entire village.


The Tuzzy Library serves as a community hub for elders such as Whitlam Adams. Photo by Arturo Camacho

Consortium libraries’ videoconference equipment and capabilities further improve access. With support from the Alaska State Library, this technology has been utilized in some creative and engaging ways. Tuzzy Library partnered with the Iñupiat Heritage Center to share the presentation KiIigvak Hunter: A Story from Anaktuvuk Pass with North Slope villages and communities from all across Alaska. Audience members were able to learn about the museum’s new Ice Age fossil exhibit within the cultural context of Iñupiaq legends of mammoth hunting. Raymond Paneak stressed the importance of oral histories and the memories of their fathers, the great Iñupiaq storytellers. It was an interactive evening that celebrated Iñupiaq culture, language, and history across generations and great distances, made possible by the library’s technological capabilities.

An array of partnerships has further enhanced this community of learning. Tuzzy Library partnered with the Rotary Club to provide suicide prevention and intervention training for people in Barrow and the surrounding villages. The North Slope Breastfeeding Coalition uses the videoconferencing services to hold meetings and offer educational programming. A collaboration with the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital Diabetes Prevention Program led to grant funding that that gave the library the ability to purchase snacks for Saturday family “Crafternoon” activities. This partnership enables the library to serve fruits, vegetables, and other healthy snacks to local families who come to the library. A tremendous success, over 1,000 people have benefited from this effort alone.

Working with groups such as the Diabetes Prevention Program and the local Cooperative Extension Office has led to programing that would otherwise not be available. Free public classes that explore topics ranging from the science of ice cream, to the possibilities of Arctic home gardens, to an eight-lecture videoconference series on the science of crude oil and ice, are possible because of the help and support of these community groups. These library services are creating healthier communities and people are noticing.


Jamie Smith (left), IIisagvik College alumnus and North Slope Borough Iñupiaq language teacher, helps paint faces during the library’s summer reading carnival.

The library also offers author talks and workshops thanks to a wide variety of local resources. An interlibrary cooperation grant from the Alaska State Library provided funding to bring poets to the communities of Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue to present and teach. Joan Naviyuk Kane (Iñupiaq), Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (Tlingit/Iñupiaq), and dg nanouk okpik (Iñupiaq) all traveled to Barrow to share and teach. The poets took the time to visit the classrooms, perform readings, teach workshops, and just listen.

Tuzzy has often been described as the “living room of Barrow,” and the library takes pride in this. People meet at the library and visit. Parents bring kids to read and play in the spacious children’s room. Teens gather and do homework after school. Beading, knitting, stamping, and other crafting groups use the library as a place to create and socialize. College art classes and the IIisagvik College Camera Club use the library walls as their gallery to display their works. The Barrow Whaler High School Band has performed during potluck dinners at the library. Award-winning author lectures, writing workshops, musical murder-mystery dinner theater events, children’s sing-along concerts, elaborate marionette puppet shows, and hands-on science experiments are a few of the many happenings held at Tuzzy Library.

Tuzzy’s diverse and wide-ranging programming would be impossible without the community’s help. Volunteers and collaborative partnerships make the library’s programming possible. Many of the successful programs begin as ideas from the community and grow from there. They are orchestrated through the generous donation of time, as individuals and members of social organizations help whenever they are called upon. People are excited to get involved because they see value in what the library offers.

IIisagvik College faculty and staff step up and volunteer their time and skills too, because they understand the importance of having a presence in the larger community. As part of the Guys Read/Gals Read program, they have visited elementary classes to read graphic novels with reluctant readers. They have baked countless cupcakes and cookies for reading carnivals and events. Staff members have even volunteered during their summer vacations to help with the summer reading program. Time is given to build bonds that create community.

Human connections are behind the heart of the library, and, like the cadre of volunteers, the library staff does their best to foster these connections in a manner that builds community and positively represents IIisagvik College. The library staff embraces Piqpakkutiqagniq suli Qiksiksrautiqagniq Utuqqanaanun Allanullu, the Iñupiaq traditional value of love and respect for elders and one another. From very small things like zipping children’s coats to larger matters like helping elders understand federal forms, the Tuzzy Library team has become a trusted and caring part of the community, assisting patrons in many ways that extend beyond their job-duty descriptions.

The friendly staff, familiar faces, public programming, and community spirit found at the Tuzzy Library makes transitioning into college easier for IIisagvik College students. Interacting with the public through library programs not only creates better community ties, but also sets up future college students for success before they start. “I can tell you that our student numbers are growing and that our students are vocal in saying they are happy to have the IIisagvik College Adult Basic Education Program hosting a class at the library, and the cultural familiarity of the library extends into our classroom,” notes Greg Shriver, an IIisagvik College ABE/GED instructor. He adds, “They really seem happier in the Tuzzy classroom.” Since moving classes to the library, Shriver has seen growth in the student numbers and course completions. He says students feel “safe and secure in familiar surroundings.” Caitlin Walls, a professor of English at IIisagvik College, echoes this sentiment: “The library is a safe and welcoming place for anyone in town who wants to browse the stacks, check out a DVD, or use the Internet—or just sit and have a quiet conversation.” It helps that the people are familiar too. Shriver’s and Walls’ students are a part of the Tuzzy Library community and this eases their transition into the IIisagvik College community.

Trust and respect are earned and having programs and services that put the community first demonstrates this. Many different library programs and services have grown out of this trust and respect. The Tuzzy Library provides programs and services that foster lifelong learning and build community at IIisagvik College, in Barrow, and beyond.

Erin Hollingsworth is the Public Services Librarian at the Tuzzy Consortium Library at IIisagvik College in Barrow, Alaska.

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