Saturday, November 05, 2005

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything"

I've received a few questions over the past several days about "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything," the reading club we run for Native children as a service through the iSchool. We started "If I Can Read" in fall 1999 with financial support from ALA President Sarah Long. We partnered with the Pueblo of Laguna's (New Mexico) Technology Challenge grant called Four Directions. Now, six years later, the program is still in operation. A number of fine iSchool students have served as Graduate Research Associate for the program, including Sara Joiner, Frances Ramberg, Sarah Cunningham, Heather Ball, Vanessa Chavez, and Amy Price. These women have gone on to take professional positions in school libraries and public libraries. One heads the architecture library for a university, another is a specialist in audio preservation and now teaches graduate classes in this area, and a third is preparing for the next step in her career as a law librarian and is in law school. Many other students have donated their time to support the project.

The program has expanded from the pilot test at the Laguna (New Mexico) Elementary School to twenty-four sites, including twenty-two tribal schools and two tribal community libraries in nine states. We're fortunate to have a number of supportive partners including the Tocker Foundation of Texas, the American Indian Library Association, sponsors such as the Chandler (Arizona) Public Library, individual site liaisons, and many donors.

We work with the sites on a variety of efforts. For many sites, this involves donating new materials for their circulating library collections. We've been able to deliver over $100,000 in new book donations. Other sites are interested in incentives for children. We've also helped plan reading promotion events such as family reading nights and scary story open mikes. We've co-written grants, arranged for speakers and special guests to visit sites, given many story-time events, weeded collections, helped develop policy documents, and cataloged. This fall we've made several site visits to a library located in Hurricane Rita's path. Many locations continue to have great needs for materials and support. Our vision for "If I Can Read" is to extend the program nationally--and even internationally--to support literacy among tribal members. We would like to plan more intergenerational iniatives and work with schools to support indigenous language revitalization efforts.

We're often asked for recommended titles, especially publications on Native peoples. In general, we recommend any title listed through Oyate ( If evaluating books on Native culture is new for you, we suggest that you take a look at Doris Seale's and Beverly Slapin's new book "A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children," just published by AltaMira Press. You can order a copy directly from Oyate. The format is similar to their well-received title, "Through Indian Eyes."

Reading Circle:
What else am I reading?
I recently read Stuart Y. Hoahwah's (Comanche) second collection of poetry, "Black Knife," published through the Sequoyah Research Center's new chapbook series. Hoahwah weaves contemporary life with cultural history. He writes of traditional Native societies, the trickster within his culture, of tribal colors and an Indian every man named Velroy.