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Tribal Libraries in Alaska

What is a tribal library?

According the 2014 article, Tribal Libraries: Vital but Often Invisible Treasures written by Karen M. Brown and Kelly P. Webster, tribal libraries rose out of The Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975, subsequent legislation and hearings at the White House Conferences on Indian Library and Information Services on or Near Reservations. “A tribal library must be designated by a tribe.” All federally recognized tribes are eligible for Basic Grant funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Native American Library Services grant program. These tribes may also apply for competitive IMLS Enhancement Grants.

Source: Brown, K.M., & Webster, K.P. (2014). Tribal Libraries: Vital but Often Invisible Treasures, OLA Quarterly, 12(4), 20-24.


For the past twenty years, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has offered Native American Library Services Basic Grants to tribal communities throughout the United States. Basic grants are one year grants of $6,000 to $10,000 to support existing library operations and maintain core library services. These noncompetitive grants are distributed in equal amounts among eligible application. In Alaska, 39 tribal communities received a Basic Grant in FY2019.

Native American Library Services Enhancement Grants bolster existing library services or implement new library services for Indian tribes. Grants are only awarded to applicants that have an active Native American Library Services Basic Grant in the same fiscal year. Two Native American Library Services Enhancement Grants were awarded to Alaska tribal communities.

The Congressional Research Service's report Tribal Broadband: Status of Deployment and Federal Funding Program [PDF], updated January 9, 2019 describes how high poverty rates and low income on tribal lands combined with rugged terrain lead discourage broadband providers to serve those areas and lead to poor levels of broadband access. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Commerce have begun to collect and compile data on tribal broadband deployment. This data shows that the tribal areas most lacking in broadband service are rural Alaskan villages and rural tribal lands in the lower 48 states.

The Federal Communications Commission is taking steps to encourage and expand broadband deployment in rural America which would help address the poor access to broadband in Alaska. In 2018, the ReConnect Program was will award up to 4600 million through grants, loans, and grant/loan combinations to entities capable of providing retail broadband service to customers in rural areas currently lacking sufficient broadband access. Eligible applicants include Indian Tribes as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25 U.S.C. § 450b.


Under the Alaska statutory definition of a public library, there are 93 public libraries ranging in size from the Anchorage Public Library that serves an urban area of almost 300,000 to the Lake Minchumina Community Library that serves a year-round population of 19. There is no Alaska definition of tribal libraries, but based on records of the Alaska State Library and awards of funds by IMLS in recent years, there are approximately 50 tribal libraries varying in size from the Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau and the Tuzzy Consortium Library in Utquiagvik (a community library and tribal college library) to the Innoko River Tribal Library in Shageluk, which is a combined public/school library. There is some overlap in these types of libraries because some public libraries (22%) have been designated as tribal libraries by their local tribal entity. Remote and rural communities may have 55-98% Alaska Native residents. So, many smaller public libraries (36%) and all tribal libraries serve predominantly Alaska Native communities.

Alaska recognition and support for tribal libraries has been evolving through the efforts of individual public library directors, Alaska State Library staff and various library associations.

2001 Culturally Responsive Guidelines adopted by the Alaska Library Association
2003 Alaska Native Issues Roundtable formed by the Alaska Library Association
2011 Alaska Native Libraries, Archives, and Museum Summit
2012 Museum Boot Camp
2012 Sponsored scholarships to Indigenous Knowledge: IFLA Presidential Program Meeting, Vancouver, BC
2013 Culturally Responsive Libraries Workshop
Library of Congress Digital Preservation Train the Trainer Workshop
Sponsored scholarships to International Indigenous Librarians Forum, Bellingham WA
2014 Indigenous Libraries, Archives & Museums (iLAMs) listserv formed
2016 Alaska Library Association Preconference sponsored by the Alaska Native Issues Roundtable & the Alaska Native Archive (UAF) on Alaska Native language materials
2018 Honoring Alaska Native Cultural Heritage through Tribal and Community Libraries Project
2019 Alaska Digital Stewardship Intensive online training
Honoring Alaska Native Cultural Heritage through Tribal and Communities Libraries YR 2 Grants

Page last updated 09/06/2019