One interesting aspect of multicultural issues related to American Indian populations is the concept of inclusive collection development in communities bordering reservations. I imagine there is somewhat of a chicken and egg problem to be dealt with here. Libraries may claim that Indians don’t make use of library resources, so they aren’t added to the collections. Indian individuals, on the other hand, might look at library collections and see little of interest to them, and thus not make use of the library’s resources.
In doing a little informal research for this blog, I decided to look for copies of Indian authors in libraries surrounding my local reservation. In doing that, I found that the largest of them, the Pendleton Public Library, has no copies of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. While Pendleton itself may only have a small Native population, the nearby community of Mission, within the Pendleton zip code, is nearly three-quarters Native, but not counted within census statistics for Pendleton proper. As children living on the western part of the reservation may attend schools within Pendleton, I assume that, based on their mailing addresses, they would utilize the Pendleton Public Library as well. (There is no information on the Pendleton Library website to make this 100% clear.)
I’m not in a position to state whether this is a result of self-censorship of one of the most challenged books of the past several years, or simply a lack of attention to inclusive collection development. However, either way, the absence of an award-winning, critically acclaimed book that might be of interest to a large portion of the population (not to mention being of interest to young adults who are not members of the American Indian population) is somewhat concerning. Additionally, there seem to be few books by other well-known American Indian authors (e.g., Leslie Marmon Silko, Vine Deloria) in the Pendleton library collection.
It would be interesting to know the rationale behind this. Hanlon’s razor states that we should never attribute to malice what we can explain via stupidity (or perhaps more kindly, to unawareness). If this is the case, it’s possible that library leadership never thought to order many of these books simply because people don’t ask for them. However, it’s unlikely that an underserved population would necessarily consider that avenue. It is important for libraries trying to serve a diverse ethnic base to be proactive in developing collections that are appropriate to their users, actual and potential. As the first item in the ALA code of ethics states, “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests” (emphasis added).