Haskell Librarian Tackled Challenges with Creativity

Volume 21, No. 3 - Spring 2010
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INNOVATIVE. The Library of Congress named Pamela Tambornino as the Federal Librarian of the Year in 2001 to recognize her “innovative leadership and professionalism.” Photo by Larry A. Deinzer

Tribal academic libraries have three types of student patrons: 1) students who have never been in a library, 2) students who have been in a library and seen a catalog, and 3) students who have had access to a larger library and know the basics of research. The latter is the smallest section.

During my tenure of approximately ten years as director of the Academic Support Library for Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence, KS) I faced many challenges: first, getting students familiar with the library, and second, updating the outdated materials in the library.

To make students more at home using the library, we installed a pop machine and set off an area where students could work in groups (outside of student workrooms), drink sodas, and talk. This made many students feel more at ease at the library.

Then I prepared “pathfinders” on probable subjects that students would need to find, i.e., facts about their tribe, about Haskell, about traditional values, etc. I made copies and gave these out at freshman orientations, along with a listing of the generic Library of Congress Classification system, so students could see that books are really in an A to Z order.

In order to add some warmth to the library as a study area, I purchased small wooden tables to put by windows and small lamps with off-white shades for those tables. We also put comfortable chairs and wooden tables near the magazines, newspapers, and new books on display.

This furniture was also near the tribal newspapers that students had requested. We added larger lamps to the side of the library that was darkest – off the soda area – for individual reading and studying.

To update the materials in our library, I contacted a local university that bought expensive reference works each year and asked them to send their discarded books once a year. Some of these sets would cost $3,000 and up per year – obviously, a tribal library does not get that kind of funding.

Then I started a campaign at the legislature with friends I had known when I worked for the state of Kansas to get current Kansas statutes sent to Haskell when legislators received updates. This kept the Haskell Law Library up to speed in statutes.

Haskell employed two master’s degree librarians at the time. We were able to purchase many books to help with two- and four-year degrees at the university. For instance, we bought business books for the four-year business degree to accommodate the changing business areas, such as casino management and archiving.

We contacted all the department chairs and asked for their suggestions for book purchases to fill in “holes” in the collection. In addition, I participated in Haskell’s Title III grant application and obtained monies to promote the collection.

Some of the original typeset booklets left over from Haskell’s boarding school days several decades earlier were still on the shelves, such as: “How To Make A Bed.” We weeded these originals, plus some paperbacks, from the collection and sent the original typeset materials to the then-new Haskell Cultural Center Museum for preservation.

Additionally, another university’s English department offered its old VHS collection of classic movies. Despite the dated format, these 50 or more VHS tapes helped students “see” some of the books they were reading. (If I had not decided to get another degree, I would have started a Native American DVD collection.)

To further stretch our book-buying budget, we had a book sale in the library one time. The vendor rewarded us for the books that were purchased. It was well attended, and the library ended up with 14 new books for the Indian section.

In order to keep up in cataloging, we hired a retired academic librarian part-time and recruited a Kansas University librarian as a volunteer to work on special projects. Before I left, the collection had been increased approximately 23%.

I did a series of student/faculty satisfaction surveys each year and published these results for library users. Surveys were consistently high, in the 90% range.

Both librarians made it a point to walk around the library during the busiest times and see if students were having any problems in finding or locating materials. We had one database, ProQuest, and this was a great hit as soon as the students found that they could email the articles to themselves and print them at home.

I started a taped language collection and also brought several art events and poetry readings into the library for diversity. We even had a blood marrow drive after realizing the great need for Native American donors. Many fine students, faculty, and staff stepped up that night to help others.

During finals, we provided cookies, orange juice, cheese, crackers, coffee, and fruit for the students to munch on during the extended hours of the library – hoping that this would keep eyes open and brains running in the late hours.

My office door was always open, and while director, I often taught two other classes: one in business and one in English. I came to know the students by name, and in no time, there were many more students using the library than before.

Tribal college students are very creative, energetic, and willing to learn – it just takes the extra “push” to ease them around the corner to use the library. The library achieved its goal of getting all three types of users into the library more often.

Pamela Tambornino (Cherokee, Wolf Clan) received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, Magna Cum Laude at Washburn University; Master of Library Science Degree at Emporia State University in 1994; and her Master of Arts in English at Emporia State University in 2009. She won the Federal Librarian of the Year from the Library of Congress in 2001 while working at Haskell, and the Ted Fleming Teaching Award from Washburn University for teaching excellence.

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