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University of Wisconsin - Madison

Cooperate to strengthen libraries in all communities

READ-style poster for Red Cliff tribal library
TLAM students created READ-style posters for the Red Cliff tribal library featuring the Ojibwe word for "Let's tell stories" and images of locations and people important to the Tribe. This example features Rose Soulier, a supporter of the library, in front of Frog Bay Tribal National Park.

"Red Cliff's successful endeavor has been transformational. It has led to powerful learning and networking opportunities––not just for our SLIS students, but also for tribal librarians, archivists and museum curators across our region. It has brought us together in ways none of us could have imagined."

Omar Poler
Outreach Specialist, University of Wisconsin - Madison, School of Library and Information Studies

In early 2008, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa realized they couldn't afford to maintain their small library. "It was housed in the old mission school that was built in the 1930s and had very little upkeep or improvements," explained Dee Gokee-Rindal, Administrator of Education for the Tribe. The Tribe sought help from University of Wisconsin – Madison's School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), the iSchool at UW-Madison. Over the next year, SLIS students met with Red Cliff community members and the Tribal Council. Although the library's location was unsustainable, the community and Council expressed strong support for a permanent tribal library.

Omar Poler, one of the initial SLIS students to form a relationship with Red Cliff and now a SLIS Outreach Specialist, explained, "We wanted to figure out a way that we could be really responsible partners and be there for as long as it takes." Omar and other students developed the Tribal Library, Archives, and Museum Project (TLAM), which introduces students to tribal library issues, coordinates service-learning projects and connects tribal librarians across the region.

"There's been a lot of excitement in the community and really a lot of pride, too. We finally have our library back."

Dee Gokee-Rindal
Administrator of Education, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

After the library in the former mission school closed, the TLAM group helped tribal members sort and pack up the library materials for storage. Then, the students dedicated themselves to getting a new library open. They wrote grants, cataloged materials, developed library policies for tribal review and engaged with the tribal community.

In summer 2014, the Tribe opened an interim library in the tribal administrative office. The TLAM students helped open the library by getting the books on the shelves, developing a website and online catalog, designing READ-style posters and other activities. "The community has truly embraced the interim library," Dee noted.

The Tribal Council has set aside 40 acres of land for a cultural education center that would include a new library building, an Anishinaabe language-immersion school, secondary education facilities and space for community gatherings. The center will be called Ginanda Gikendaasomin, which in Ojibwe means "we seek to learn." "Due to the history, there's a lot of pockets of information that people hold, and we don't yet have a central gathering space for that," said Krystal Topping, the Tribe's Director of Education. "This is really important for teaching the next generation who we are and where we come from."

As SLIS Professor Louise Robbins (retired) explained, "Right now, we're at the point where there is a site, but there's just everything to be done to move to this forward." The TLAM Project will continue to help support the Red Cliff Tribe's interim library and will help seek funding opportunities for the future space. "I think it's going to be a very long-term relationship," Dee said. "We appreciate all the help, and it really couldn't have happened without Louise, Omar and the SLIS students."

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Map showing location of University of Wisconsin - Madison and Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

TLAM Project at a glance

  • Includes a graduate-level course, service-learning projects, a student group and professional development opportunities for tribal librarians, archivists and museum curators
  • In addition to Red Cliff, has partnered with the Ho-Chunk Nation Learning Center, Oneida Nation Cultural Heritage Department and tribal cultural institutions throughout the western Great Lakes
  • Hosted eight Convening Culture Keepers mini-conferences and two regional institutes funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for tribal cultural professionals
  • Additional IMLS grant will support more regional institutes and a traveling exhibition curated by tribal culture keepers

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