Ten years ago, the library on the Cahuilla Indian reservation outside Palm Springs was a dusty old building with few books and no climate control. Today it is the reservation's social center for learning, with a fully functioning library and a full-time librarian.
"Our library is a place for our people to gather to share stories, read, use the computer, play chess, just hang out," said Luisa Armijo, the library's director.
Armijo credits UC's Berkeley's John Berry for transforming the Torres Martinez library. Berry is Native American Studies and Comparative Ethnic Studies librarian at Cal's Ethnic Studies Library.
Berry began advising Armijo about 10 years ago, shortly after he arrived at Berkeley from Oklahoma State University, where he had been assistant director of graduate studies and a library faculty member.
The Torres Martinez library is one of more than 10 tribal libraries in California and around the nation that Berry has helped develop. This work is in addition to his full-time librarian duties, which include building and cataloging the Native American collection at Berkeley, answering reference questions and helping Ethnic Studies faculty and CAL students with their research.
Tribal libraries serve many purposes, depending on the tribe's circumstances and needs, Berry said. Some libraries serve as an archive; others are museums; still others are educational, often serving as an adjunct school library. Many combine some or all of these functions. Few have professionally trained librarians or sufficient resources to serve their communities.
Quite often, Berry said, the tribal library is located in an area where a public library is not accessible. Or local libraries don't pay attention to the tribes' needs, so the tribes need to develop collections and resources relevant to their people.
"Native Americans have always had libraries," Armijo said. "But they were living libraries-our oral tradition of stories, our petroglyphs. Now they have evolved, but John has helped our library maintain our culture."
Berry has advised tribal libraries on everything from how to set up a library catalog to the types of materials to include in the collection and how to get funding for the library.
"John helped us build our collection, showed us where to buy books at a discount and where to find people willing to donate books to our library," Armijo said. "Today we have an extensive Native American collection that other libraries don't have.
"We are recognized as an educational library with a commitment to literacy and higher education," she said. "As a result, surrounding school districts work with us, and that has led to additional grants for the library.
"But it's not just John's ideas about organizing a library collection that have helped us develop the library," Armijo said. "It is his knowledge of what it means to be on a reservation and his ability to work with tribal groups that has helped us make the connection between the library and education."
For example, when Berry and Armijo wanted to develop an online catalog, he spoke to the tribal council to explain the project, which included training high school students and young adults in cataloging.
"I have Indian heritage, as many of us in Oklahoma do," Berry said. "It came naturally to seek out other native people. I believe in giving back to the community. I've advised and consulted, but they take their energy and ingenuity to build services for their people."
Anne Wolf is systemwide coordinator in UC Internal Communications.