In recent years there has been a notable increase in library and information science (LIS) studies on Aboriginal tribal libraries and Islamic mosque libraries. However, to date, there are no studies that have explored the relationship between these two seemingly different libraries. It is the purpose of this paper to address this lacuna in the literature by employing a comparative approach to tribal and mosque libraries. This paper will begin by (ii) defining and classifying tribal and mosque libraries followed by a brief review of their (iii) background and context. Next, this paper will discuss the (iv) users, (v) services and programs, (vi) collection and classification, (vii) staffing, (viii) funding and (ix) technological aspects, of tribal and mosque libraries. Before concluding, this paper will offer (x) further considerations relating to both libraries.
Tribal libraries are “located on reservations and controlled by the tribe, pueblo, village or native group.” This definition is also applicable to the Canadian context as the term tribal libraries refers to public on reserve libraries. The term ‘mosque’ designates the formal institutional space established for meeting the ritual and social needs of Muslims. Mosque libraries “are located in and supported by the mosque and are staffed by persons associated with it.” Both tribal and mosque libraries are similar in their basic purpose which is to meet the information needs of the communities that they are housed in. Moreover, tribal and mosque libraries can be classified as “hybrids” of public and special libraries as both libraries have holdings of general materials found in public library collections as well as resources specific to their respective communities.
The first recorded tribal library was opened in 1957 by the Colorado River Tribal Council. In the 1960s, there existed limited collections that constituted nascent tribal libraries. However, it was through the indefatigable efforts of Lotsee Patterson, who: (a) secured a series of federal grants from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, (b) drafted legislation encouraging tribal autonomy, and (c) strongly advocated tribal librarianship at a national level, all of which resulted in the official establishment and development of tribal libraries. As well, the work by various organizations, particularly the American Indian Library Association (AILA), has and continues to contribute to the advancement of tribal libraries. Although a relatively recent occurrence, tribal libraries are rapidly growing in size and increasing in numbers.
The history of mosque libraries begins shortly after the Prophet Muhammad founded the first mosque in Medina (622 CE). Since this time, mosques and their libraries are a centre for community and play important social, political and educational roles similar to those manifest in tribal libraries. The Grand Mosque of Cordoba and the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo are but two examples that testify to the rise and glory of mosque libraries in Islamic history. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the decline of mosque libraries was apparent owing to external and internal factors as well as other calamities. Despite this, there has been a recent renewed vigour and interest in contemporary mosque libraries.
This paper will concentrate on comparing contemporary mosque libraries and tribal libraries. Due to the dearth of data on First Nation public libraries in Canada, this paper will focus on tribal libraries in the US context. Before proceeding, it must be emphasized that tribal libraries “vary widely in size, collections, staffing, and function.” However, this paper will attempt to extract general characteristics of tribal libraries for comparative purposes. In contrast, Mohamed Taher contends that the “catalog ... book lists compiled, size of collections, subjects covered, shelf arrangement, reading rooms, lending practices, and staffing patterns in the mosque libraries show hardly any differences.”
As tribal libraries are located on tribal land, it follows that the primary patrons are part of the tribal community. Likewise, the primary patrons of mosque libraries are members of the immediate congregation. That said, both libraries are open to the general public. Some tribal libraries attract visitors by displaying cultural art and artefacts. Similarly, certain mosque libraries have a separate section offering religious literature and paraphernalia. These added amenities promote and encourage external users to peruse the library. Both types of libraries also support inter-tribal and inter-mosque library use.
At the very least, all tribal and mosque libraries provide basic library services to their users. Individual tribal and mosque libraries may offer ‘special’ services such as interlibrary loan privileges or access to online databases. The programs offered also vary but the focus for a number of both libraries involves language programs. For tribes, the emphasis is on trying to regain their own “lost or nearly lost languages.” For Muslims, the importance of knowing Arabic is paramount as this is the language the Quran (Islamic holy scripture) was revealed in. Accordingly, both types of libraries encourage communicating in the vernacular and offer language immersion classes.
Tribal and mosque library’s collections vary significantly in number, format and content. Patterson estimates that the collections of tribal libraries “range from fewer than one hundred books to more than forty-six thousand print and non print items.” It is difficult to provide estimates for the sizes of collections in mosque libraries as most statistics are rather dated or unavailable. Existing collections of tribal and mosque libraries may include manuscripts, books, journals, magazines, newspapers, audiovisual and multimedia materials. Tribal and mosque libraries welcome donations and endowments to enhance their collections.
Unfortunately, the libraries can be used as ‘dumping grounds’ for unwanted materials. Ann Abdoo, in revamping a tribal library, found books that “were out-of-date - 20 year old science books and biographies of people no child would have been interested in even when they were new.” Taher and Fatimy, in taking stock of a mosque library’s collection, relate that “one whole set of medical journals [was] dumped” and had to be housed in a separate section. This type of activity could convey that the host organization or individual(s) tends to consider tribal and mosque libraries as having ‘lesser’ clients.
This raises the question: what do tribal and mosque library collections constitute? The following Native American Education Services’ indigenous classification scheme illustrates the subject areas, materials from which tribal libraries have or ought to have.
Community Development (CDM)
Human Services (HS)
Mass Communications (MS)
Public Policy, Government, Law (PP)
Religion & Philosophy (RP)
Science & Technology (SCI)
Social Sciences (SS)
The following traditional scheme of classification adopted in certain mosque libraries provides a picture of the subject areas that are or ought to be represented in their collections.
(2) Quran text and interpretation
(3) Biography of the Prophet Muhammad
(4) Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad
(5) Beliefs and Scholasticism
(8) General Biography
(9) Ethics and ethiquettes [sic]
The very fact that there exists separate Indigenous and Islamic classification schemas is significant. These schemas are not intended exclusively for tribal and mosque libraries but are designed for any library that has major holdings of Aboriginal or Islamic related materials. Indigenous and Islamic schemata originated out of the notion that Western classification schemas do not classify the available body of literature according to the worldviews of both Aboriginal and Islamic communities. Ann Doyle has drawn attention to the “types of erasures and exclusions of First Nations experiences and knowledges” in the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) while Haroon Idrees has surveyed the “shortcomings and inadequacies” of Western classification schemas regarding the Islamics.
Needless to say, tribal and mosque libraries cannot acquire all or even a fraction of the materials in each subject area. However, these lists illustrate the challenges in collection development given the scope, depth and breadth of the literature. Furthermore, those tribal and mosque libraries that do have holdings in the aforementioned areas eventually may need to deselect items that are obsolete or in poor physical condition, and consequently have to repurchase these.
The number of staff hired by tribal and mosque libraries varies from one library to another. However the common denominator between these libraries is that staff are undertrained, inexperienced and lack library skills and competencies. Many tribal and mosque libraries simply do not have funds to employ professional staff. For both types of libraries, it is essential to recruit professionals from the within the community. As Knowles & Jolivet explain:
Librarians of color are crucial to the provision of services in communities where knowledge of the language, the values, and the cultural heritage of the growing racial and ethnic minority communities is imperative.
However, there are a limited number of professional librarians from both communities. Moreover, there is not much incentive for these librarians to work in tribal and mosque libraries as employment salaries and benefits are insufficient. Hence, levels of client satisfaction and the quality of library services to both populations are decreased. At the same time, it should be stressed that it is the determination and perseverance of personnel that manages to keep tribal and mosque libraries open and operational. These personnel also include volunteers who are engaged from within the community to assist in the day to day operations of the library.
Funding or perhaps underfunding is the most serious challenge facing tribal and mosque libraries. The US government does not provide base funding for tribal libraries. Instead, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) offers basic grants, basic grants with education/assessment option grants, and enhancement grants to Indian tribes. According to the IMLS, Indian tribes are:
[A]ny tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village, regional corporation, or village corporation ... that is recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.
Many tribes are excluded from funding as they are state recognized but not federally recognized. Only certain states will acknowledge tribal libraries as having public library status and are therefore eligible to apply for funding. On the whole, both federal and state grants are not stable sources of funding. Moreover, some tribal libraries do not have the resources to regularly enlist the costly services of a professional grant writer to assist with grant paperwork. At times, tribes may allocate monies to their libraries but the first priority rightfully lies in ensuring that each member has access to the basic necessities of life.
Mosque libraries are funded by either or a combination of the following three financial sources. The first is waqf which refers “to the practice of reserving property and the income it generates for a charitable donation.” The charitable donation is not exclusive to libraries but also includes other religious, educational and socio-political institutions. Consequently, at times there may not be enough income or reserves to ensure the perpetuity of waqf. The second source of funding for mosque libraries is private endowments made by members of the immediate congregation or the community. The third source is grants from the government which generally are exceedingly selective and sanctioned on an ad-hoc basis. Taher et al., have underlined that waqf funding for mosque libraries is inadequate and disproportional. Moreover, as private endowments are voluntary and government grants are uncertain; all three sources of library funding are variable. As a result, mosque libraries similar to tribal libraries, remain underfunded and unstable.
An increase in as well as more stable funding would enable tribal and mosque libraries to sustain and develop their collections, recruit professional staff from within the community, upgrade the training and skills of current staff, update computer hardware and software, ensure Internet connectivity, and support the general expansion of services, programs and facilities.
There are multiple barriers in acquiring technologies for tribal libraries such as no or limited electricity and power supply, lack of funding, as well as harsh road conditions between reservations and towns, to name a few. Generous grants by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other agencies have enabled many tribal libraries to alleviate some of these barriers in their efforts to bring technology to marginalized populations. The tribal libraries that were recipients of these grants now have computers, software and access to the Internet. Certain tribal libraries have also built on this by participating in external information technology (IT) staff training and even library consortia.
As with tribal libraries, there is wide variation in access to technologies between mosque libraries. A study of mosque libraries that do have access to technologies reported that mosque library personnel are highly competent in word processing, electronic mail and Internet usage. They are also “highly capable of locating and reviewing relevant information as well as determining what information [is] needed to address a research question”. From these occurrences, it is evident that tribal and mosque libraries that do have access to technology are effectively using it to better meet and anticipate their users’ needs.
As tribal and mosque libraries continue to grow and increase so does their mission and purpose. As a result, there are many issues that both types of libraries must address of which two are considered below. These issues and the recommendations for their resolution are common to both tribal and mosque libraries.
There are numerous libraries and museums worldwide that have acquired sacred materials of both Aboriginal and Islamic peoples. For Aboriginal peoples, many of these sacred materials are considered to be “alive” possessing both “nature” and “spirit.” For Muslims, sacred materials, particularly the Quran, is of “divine origin” possessing “power” and the ability to “protect.” However, libraries and museums generally view these sacred materials as profane and this is reflected in their treatment of Aboriginal and Islamic acquisitions. An example of the former is the application of various physical and chemical techniques to conserve and preserve Aboriginal materials. The placing of copies of the Quran on the lower shelves of libraries is an example of the latter. Both processes are done without consideration for the Aboriginal and Islamic perspectives which view these types of practices as disrespectful and, even worse, desecrating. Tribal and mosque libraries can make a difference through advocacy and lobbying for the adoption of culturally appropriate treatment of sacred materials. It is possible that these efforts will encourage institutions to collaborate with Aboriginal and Islamic communities on exactly how to achieve this end.
Aboriginal and Muslim peoples have long been victims of discrimination and racism due to stereotypes and prejudice. Junaid Rana has indicated that initial stereotypes against Aboriginal peoples are identical to those applied to Muslims. Both peoples were “classified as racially other–that is barbaric, depraved, immoral, and sexually deviant.” These stereotypes have persisted until modern times and are intensified by the formulation of additional latter stereotypes. Examples of these include “Native Americans are alcoholic[s] ... lazy and depend on welfare” while “Muslims are terrorists and that Islam is anti-American” not to mention sexist, “anti-Semitic and oppressive.” According to Chang and Kleiner, stereotypes can be overcome through awareness and education. Tribal and mosque libraries can assist in this process by proactively educating and creating awareness among members of their own communities as stereotypes tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Tribal and mosque libraries can also educate and create awareness of Aboriginal and Muslim stereotypes among other communities through outreach services. It is probable that these efforts can help to prevent the perpetuation of misconceptions and stereotypes.
Thus far this paper has shown striking similarities between tribal and mosque libraries. These similarities are observed in areas such as the purpose, usership, services and programs, collection and classification, staffing, funding and technological aspects of both types of libraries. In addition, this paper has highlighted the issues of culturally appropriate treatment of sacred materials and the importance of addressing stereotypes and misinformation that are shared by both Aboriginal and Muslim communities, and by extension, their libraries. Given that tribal and mosque libraries are two separate multi-faceted entities, there are bound to be differences not only across but also within individual libraries. Nonetheless, there is a common and recognizable thread interwoven through tribal and mosque libraries and librarianship that inextricably connect the two.