The Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) Project

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Robin Amado and Jake Ineichen.

Boozhoo (hello, in Ojibwe) from Madison, Wisconsin! We are members of the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums Project (TLAM) at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and today we’d like to talk a little bit about what we do and why we do it.

First, some context: There are 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., 11 of which are in Wisconsin. And there are 7 tribal cultural institutions that combine libraries, archives, and/or museums in one space. Tribal communities are spread throughout the state, shown on the map here.

What is the TLAM Project?

The TLAM Project is designed to provide LIS students with service-learning opportunities in American Indian communities on projects that actually mean something to those communities. At the same time, it provides tribal cultural workers with access to professional resources and development.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship! Building relationships is a focal point of our work.

TLAM began with students who had an interest in learning about Wisconsin Indian communities and approached the director of our library school with an idea for a specialized course. She said, “You design it, and I’ll run it,” and the next semester ten students enrolled in a group independent study course. It provided such a unique, valuable (read: awesome) experience that it became a listed course the next year.

Five years later, the project has grown into three different learning opportunities:

  • The TLAM service-learning graduate course is offered every spring semester, combining contemporary American Indian issues – language, sovereignty, culture, history – with hands-on projects. Most weeks, professors from other departments guest lecture on a topic, which help us connect and collaborate with other programs on campus. For example, Rand Valentine, an American Indian Studies professor and Ojibwe language expert, taught us about language and storytelling. The class also takes trips to tribal communities across Wisconsin. For the projects this past spring, students described historical reel-to-reel footage from the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, worked on a capital campaign with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and organized and processed books related to school curriculum at the Ho-Chunk Learning Center.
  • Convening Culture Keepers is a series of professional development mini-conferences organized by our library school and hosted by a tribal community. Culture keepers (tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators) and TLAM students learn about the hosting community through tours and cultural activities (like basket-making and social dances), share traditional meals together, and attend professional development sessions and workshops. We recently received an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to expand our network of tribal professionals to Minnesota and Michigan. This project will be called Convening Great Lakes Culture Keepers, a four-day institute to be held at the Ziibiwing Center for Anishinaabe Culture and Lifeways in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan[SC2]  in April 2014. It’s going to be epic.
  • The TLAM Student Group was started three years ago by a group of students who, after having taken the TLAM class, wanted to sustain the work of the service-learning projects between spring semesters.  We also host social events, like movie nights and book clubs and take trips to pow-wows and lectures (We met Sherman Alexie in Milwaukee!).

Why We Do What We’re Doing

1. LIS education has a glaring hole: There are few opportunities for practical experience working with diverse communities. Students who have no intention of working in a tribal community have found their experience in the TLAM Project to be transferable when working with patrons from other cultures.

2. Homogeny is boring and dangerous. We should all strive to meet new people, learn from each other, and expand our worldviews. This summer during a new TLAM practicum class, Robin carved wild ricing knockers with help from Lac Courte Oreilles community members, Jake learned about the deep cultural roots of the Menominee forest for the Menominee people from a Menominee teacher, and Mary talked with a tribal elder about her perspective on the needs of the Oneida community.

3. Learning about our profession is one thing, but engaging in meaningful projects is completely different. We pride ourselves on working with communities, making progress, and doing things that matter. Our projects are not decided by an LIS school agenda; they are designed with tribal members so that they provide us with worthwhile experiences and at the same time make a difference in the community.

What Can You Do?

  • Pick up Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums, edited by Loreine Roy. Read it.
  • Find out how many tribal communities are located near where you live.
  • Inquire at your library school or public library about how these institutions are serving Native folks. If they aren’t, do something about it.

And if you want more information about the TLAM Project, visit our website at

Miigwech! (Thank you, in Ojibwe),

Robin and Jake

Robin Amado graduated in August from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is currently a school librarian and high school English teacher. She’s been involved with the TLAM Project since Fall 2011, and hopes to continue this type of work long into the future! One day, she’d like to work in a tribal library.  She can reached at robinamado at gmail dot com. 

Jacob Ineichen is a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He is planning on graduating this coming spring and becoming a technical services librarian. He’s been involved with the TLAM Project since Fall 2011, and will continue to be an advocate for quality library service for American Indians after he graduates. He can be contacted at ineichen at wisc dot com.

Roy, Loriene, Anjali Bhasin, and Sarah K. Arriaga, eds. Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Preserving Our Language, Memory, and Lifeways. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-8108-8194-5

Categories: Diversity, This Is Awesome

4 replies

  1. This is a wonderful post and project. You call attention to a little known aspect of librarianship in which our actions and collaborations can make a real different in historically marginalized communities. Your post also highlights overlooked ethnocultural diversity issues too, as most of us think of diversity in gender and racial terms rather than of indigenous cultures or tribal communities. Great work!


  2. Here’s the citation for the book:
    Roy, Loriene, Anjali Bhasin, and Sarah K. Arriaga, eds. Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Preserving Our Language, Memory, and Lifeways. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-8108-8194-5


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s