The small-town tribal library is in one big spotlight.
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library in Blyn this week was named one of 10 recipients of the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries making “significant and exceptional contributions to their communities,” according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Rep. Derek Kilmer nominated the library which is open to the public and specializes in materials by and about Native American Indians with a special focus on the tribes of the Northwest Coast.
“I’m incredibly proud to see the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library recognized with the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service,” Rep. Derek Kilmer said.
“Community institutions like the Tribal Library are so critical to ensuring that we collectively make every effort to preserve and provide access to vital materials and resources that honor the cherished history of Native American Indians and the people of the Pacific Northwest. This recognition is well deserved and I congratulate Chairman Ron Allen and the entire Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe for their dedication to the vitality of the Tribal Library.”
The Jamestown library was in a field of finalists that included libraries in Flint, Mich., and Los Angeles.
“We are honored to have been selected from among the thousands of worthy libraries in the country, for our small but mighty institution, which reflects the culture of the S’Klallam people, whose name, nə∂xʷsƛ̕áy̕əm̕, means ‘the strong people,’” tribal librarian Bonnie Roos said.
The institute announced by email in early March that the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library was among the 30 finalists — divided equally among libraries and museums — out of 152,000 across the United States. Finalists were chosen because of their significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. According to a March 11 press release, “The National Medal … has celebrated institutions that demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to public service and are making a difference for individuals, families and communities.”
Entry required completing a six-page application and asked what made the Jamestown library stand out, Roos said her top reasons were the library’s online virtual museum, a prestigious award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums in 2014 and the library’s impact on the community through outreach to all tribal members so they may reconnect with their culture.
“We’re thrilled and in awe to be named a finalist,” Roos said in April. “Of all the museums and libraries in the country, it is amazing! We’re with the big guys.”
The tribal library began in 1988 with a few donated books (see below). By 2019, the library has seen a significant shift to digital archives.
“Our collections are primarily Native American topics and authors, both historical and contemporary,” Roos said. “We do collect some general area information.”
There are collections on history, basketry, ethnobotany, canoes/kayaks, genealogy, fiction by Native American writers, traditional arts and crafts, and graphic novels by Native American artists, plus sections for children and young adults.
“We have a full-service library with the internet, computers, books, DVDs, CDs and newspapers,” Roos said, “but I think we make use of any resources we can. We serve the tribal community but also serve the public and in our programs we always try to tie the tribal culture into whatever they’re doing.”
Representatives from winning institutions will be honored at the National Medal Ceremony on June 12 in Washington, D.C. As part of the ceremony and celebration, Roos, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Elder Celeste Dybeck and Tribal Council Vice-Chair Liz Mueller will travel to Washington, D.C, to accept the National Medal on behalf of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library and provide a personal account of the power the library, its collections and programs have had in the community. (Mueller initiated the library in the late 1980s, while Dybeck has used the library extensively for various projects, most recently the Chetzemoka Trail, an interpretive trail in Port Townsend that chronicles the early relationship between the S’Klallam people and the early European settlers in that area).
Following the ceremony, StoryCorps — a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans — will visit the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library and provide an opportunity for Sequim community members to share stories of how the Tribal Library has affected their lives. These stories are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The Jamestown S’Klallam Library opened in 1988 with the assistance of a Dept. of Education grant. At the time, the “library,” tribe representatives said in a press release, consisted of cabinetry installed in a community center building and with about 300 books on culture/history and law.
In 1997, when it came under the oversight of the tribe’s planning division, the library saw its first staff member added when a part-time clerk was assigned to take care of the books. Over the next 12 years it continued to grow in content with the support of those grant funds, the occasional foundation grant and partnership with the Washington State Library.
In 2011, under a Native American Library Services Enhancement Grant, the tribe hired its first professional librarian.
Since 2001, the mission of the tribal library has been “to provide the Tribal community and others with access to information about American Indian history and culture; to support members of the Jamestown community in their efforts to achieve self-sufficiency; and to assist Tribal programs in providing service to the community.”
In 2016 the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe conducted a 2016 Library Needs Assessment that found top programs tribal people considered important were Klallam language, assistance with cultural research and Native Film Nights.
“We reached out to citizens, staff and language teachers to create a language program that continues to gain momentum; we have increased our genealogical research resources and assistance; and we have an annual film series of three to four films that highlight various Native American themes,” tribe representatives said in a press release this week.
Younger tribal members, the study found, seek services for job seekers, college-bound students, information on government services and more online content are most important, so library officials upgraded and enhanced the library website (library.jamestowntribe.org), and in hearing the desire for more estate planning information, library officials developed a series of workshops covering topics such as medical decision making, healthy and active aging, veterans’ benefits and legal decisions — workshops open to tribal people and the general public.
For a complete list of 2019 recipients and to learn more about the National Medal winners, visit www.imls.gov/news-events/press-releases.