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Native American Heritage Month at the Library

by on November 11, 2022

November is Native American Heritage Month (also referred to as Native American Indian Heritage Month and National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month). What started at the turn of the century as a day of acknowledgement of the cultures and traditions of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders, has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose. Public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating with curated booklists, book discussions, film screenings, language, cooking, and art classes, and many more programs throughout the month.  

History of the American Indian Library Association 

In 1979, the American Indian Library Association (AILA), an affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), was founded in conjunction with the White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library and Information Services on or near Reservations. At the time, there was increasing awareness that library services for Native Americans were inadequate. Alongside actions like the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Act and 1978 National Indian Omnibus Library Bill, AILA’s establishment was part of a movement of funding and advocacy aimed to address the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

Today, its members are committed to developing programs that improve Indian library, cultural, and informational services in school, public, and research libraries on reservations. AILA is also committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and information needs to the library community. AILA cosponsors an annual conference and holds a yearly business meeting in conjunction with the American Library Association annual meeting. It publishes the American Indian Libraries Newsletter twice a year.  

Tribal Libraries 

At the 2018 National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color in Alburquerque, New Mexico, a session titled “The History and Currency of Tribal Libraries: Sovereignty, Information, and Empowerment” posed questions concerning the definition of a tribal library and its basis for development. Sandy Littletree, PH.D., an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Information School and 2011–2012 AILA President, noted at the session that “Tribal libraries are as diverse as tribal communities,” and further explained that libraries can be planned or administered by a tribe, pueblo, village, or native group, and may be located in public libraries, universities, youth centers, chapter houses, or as part of museums and archives.  

AILA members offered their own definitions of tribal libraries, listed on the AILA website. One member noted that they serve as “archives, language repositories, heritage centers, museums, and a gateway to local state, and federal service programs, learning centers, and community gathering places”. Another noted that they can exist in spaces identified by tribal members ranging from “a shelf of books in a hallway, in tribal council chambers, in Education Director’s offices and shared space with a food coop, an alcohol rehab center and other interesting places.. United in their many definitions was the idea that tribal libraries and their functions vary widely in order to best serve their communities.  

Also in 2018, AILA collaborated with the ALA Emerging Leaders program to put tribal libraries on the map. This cohort of early career librarians and AILA members created a web-based directory of Tribal libraries, archives, and museums (TLAM). The directory includes names, contact information, locations, and the tribes/communities served by each institution, in an effort to make tribal libraries more visible and accessible. AILA invites tribal libraries that have not yet done so to submit their information to be added to the map, as it is updated regularly.  

Library Programming and Events 

How is your library celebrating Native American Heritage Month? For inspiration, visit the Living Nations, Living Words: A Guide for Educators from the Library of Congress, featuring the signature project of 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo—the first Native American poet to serve in this position. Take a moment to learn about ongoing advocacy by and for Native people concerning issues such as the upcoming Supreme Court case challenging The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), via the Lakota Law Project or This Land podcast. Finally, check out a list of Native American Heritage Month programs taking place at public and tribal libraries below!  


Baltimore County Public Library: Booklist 

Bellingham Public Library (Bellingham, WA): Events & more 

Boston Public Library: Events & more 

Charleston County Public Library (Charleston, SC): Events & more 

Chicago Public Library: Events & more 

DC Public Library: Events & more 

Detroit Public Library: Events & more 

Hennepin County Library (Minneapolis, MN): Booklist 

Houston Public Library: Booklist 

Kansas City Public Library: Events & more 

Los Angeles Public Library: Events & more 

Milwaukee Public Library: Booklist 

Oakland Public Library: Events & more 

Pasadena Public Library (Pasadena, CA): Events 

Richland Library (Columbia, SC): Events Booklist 

San Antonio Public Library: Events & more 

San Diego Public Library: Events & more 

San Francisco Public Library: Events Booklist 

San Jose Public Library: Booklist 

Seattle Public Library: Booklist 

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