Ideas for Enhancing Your Library’s Service to First Nations’ Families *
These are just a few of the ways we can improve and expand our library services to First Nations families in our communities and surrounding areas. These suggestions have been gathered from various reports and surveys, taken from workshops and from the internet. This is in no way an exhaustive list, and hopefully your library will be able to add to it! Some ideas are quick and easy, and may be implemented immediately. Others will take longer, and may develop over time. Use what works for you and your community!
What are the existing barriers to First Nations peoples using your library? Identify the impediments and implement a plan to systematically eliminate such barriers.
Ensure that your library offers a welcome and safe environment. Work with the First Nations and Metis communities to evaluate the extent to which the library is welcoming, and ensure that processes are put in place to provide a culturally appropriate and sensitive atmosphere.
Provide Indigenous cultural awareness and sensitivity training, and encourage staff and board members to participate. The training should be ongoing, and delivered by a person of First Nations descent. Approach a variety of organizations offering such training, to ensure the best training for your specific needs.
To further cultural awareness, encourage library staff and board members to participate in local community groups related to First Nations and Metis people. Perhaps designate a staff or board member to be responsible for outreach and liason with the First Nations and Metis communities in your area.
Develop collections that include Indigenous content; such as materials written in First Nations laguages and syllabics, recordings of First Nations histories and the stories told by the Elders, with their permission. Add quality children’s and YA books with First Nations characters and themes to your collection. Make sure that your collection reflects the community. Assess your current collection, eliminating any outdated material or material with negative stereotypes. Include Large Print and audiobooks of interest to Elders.
Create displays of First Nations authors and materials, not just during National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Have suggestion boxes, and take the comments and suggestions seriously.
Connect with your local Head Start program and Friendship House Daycare and Preschool, if such programs are available in your community. Offer tours of the library to these groups, as well as special programming in the library or at their facilities. Prepare a letter to be sent home with the children prior to their visit to the library, welcoming the family to the library, and encouraging them to visit the library themselves.
Invite First Nations storytellers, authors and illustrators to visit your library. This can be a separate event, or included in another event, such as Family Literacy Day.
Include First Nation representation on your staff, in proportion to your local First Nations and Metis population. Having an Indigenous staff present in the library will encourage First Nations and Metis people to visit the library and access the services to their fullest. During hiring interviews, ask potential employees how they would improve public library services to First Nations people and how their ideas might be implemented.
Have your Library Board recruit Indigenous members. Consultation with First Nations groups for potential board members would be a positive method of recruitment. The importance of Elders in First Nations communities could be reflected with an ex-officio position for an Elder on the Board, thereby acknowledging their roles as traditional educators and sources of history and knowledge.
Encourage First Nations and Metis participation by providing culturally sensitive programs and services. Establish partnerships with First Nations and Metis groups and organizations to develop these programs and services. It would be beneficial to include Elders in the development of such programmings. Increase the awareness of the history and culture of our First Nation and Metis people.
Display First Nations art work in your library. Have your library serve as a repository of First Nations and Metis cultures and history.
Display signage in the local First Nations language. This promotes language preservation and provides a welcoming atmosphere. A ‘Word of the Week’ in the local Aboriginal language is an innovative and fun method to promote language and culture within the library.
Recognize the importance of oral tradition in the First Nation and Metis cultures. Invite Elders to participate in library programs by telling their stories and histories. Promote storytelling in the Indigenous languages as well, as the stories lose some of their meaning when they are translated into English.
Incorporate First Nations stories and felt stories into your preschool and family library programs.
In order to improve computer literacy amongst First Nations families, offer computer training and promote such training to First Nations community members. Perhaps display posters and hand-outs at Friendship Houses and Head Start programs.
Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day in your library, with programs and displays, and ask how you can get involved in your community’s celebrations. Ask if you can have a display of library materials, and activities for the participants to partake in.
Explore the possibility of bringing library services to homebound Elders, or those living in isolated areas.
Create an outreach program where you regularly (perhaps twice a month) travel to a location and offer a selection of library materials available for borrowing, and activities for the children.
If you are not able to commit to a full outreach program, see about setting up a shelf or tote in various locations. The library can restock the books as needed, with the idea that the books are a donation from the library and are not required to be returned. The book shelf can also be used to ‘Take a Book/Leave a Book’, so that the books are shared amongst users.
Work with other libraries to develop a method of sharing resources, program ideas, initiatives, policies, issues and possible solutions.
Include pictures of First Nations families in any materials that the library publishes (ie. Annual reports, strategic plans, website, posters, etc.) Ensure you have permission to use photographs for library publications.
Use your library’s website to promote your First Nations collections, programs and services. Create an on-line suggestion form for patrons to give feedback.
Find creative ways to distribute donated and gently-used materials to First Nations families and communities. These could be through your local Friendship House, Headstart program, ferry services, Youth Hub, Transition House, Nursing Stations, Band Offices, etc. These locations could be in your community or in outlying communities.
Promote your Summer Reading Club within the First Nations communities. Distribute posters and flyers to schools, Band Offices, Friendship Houses, etc. Include First Nations stories and crafts in your summer reading program, either as a specific weekly theme, or include alongside other material whenever possible.
Encourage children to include stories told, not just read, to them in their summer reading logs. This may encourage storytelling with Elders in their family.
Discuss your ideas and wishes with your coworkers and board members. You never know who may already have connections or contacts within your community or in other communities.
Additional Resources for Enhancing Library Services for First Nations’ Families