Chipping Away at It

By Leanne Jenkins
Planning Director, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe

Fifteen years ago, we at the the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library had no functional way to keep track of our collections, no good way to share the many objects and photographs that tell the story of this community’s history, culture, and traditions. Our collection of books was on display, but the rest was stored in basements and file cabinets.

In about 1998, I happened across a nascent museum website and thought it would be wonderful if we could display our collections this way, especially for the many tribal people who live so far from our little rural community in Sequim, Washington. The logistics of it were not feasible though, in terms of both cost and availability of technological infrastructure.

Adze in hand

The carvers who create the totem poles of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe use an adze—an ancient tool—to painstakingly chip away at layers of old-growth cedar, drawing representative human and animal forms out of the wood to tell a story.

In the subsequent years, we continued to build our collections of artifacts, photographs, and documents. Our technological capacity increased. We used a portion of our IMLS Native American Library Services Basic Grant each year to contract for scanning services, little by little converting our documents to digital format for preservation purposes. By 2007, we had begun to examine how we could establish the large-scale system of equipment, resources, and protocols to create digital archives that could be stored safely, easily retrieved, and displayed electronically. We submitted a proposal to the Native American Library Enhancement program to acquire the necessary hardware and software to start the process of digital conversion in earnest. The proposal was not successful.

Based on feedback from IMLS program officer Alison Freese, we began refining our proposal and exploring further the standards and protocols for our project, tempering the desire to do everything at once with the realities of what was feasible to do within the timeframe and budget. A previously funded project turned out to be a good template and model. With what we learned from the Olympic Peninsula Community Museum, we were able to craft a well-designed project that was funded under the Enhancement Grant program in 2009. Two years later, we had the “House of Seven Generations,” an online display of our public collections—photos, documents, audio, and artifacts—with a total of nearly 6,000 items in 27 separate collections. We developed exhibits and educational curricula, distributed a catalog, used the collections to publish a book celebrating the 30th anniversary of federal recognition of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, and generated the momentum to keep it all moving forward after the funding period.

Tribal libraries rarely have the means and resources to undertake the grand capital improvements or to hire the consultants and staff necessary to manage and operate expansive programs, activities, and facilities. With IMLS funding and staff support we keep chipping away at it just as our carvers do, holding our vision in front of us, sharpening our tools, and drawing out the shapes and forms that will tell our stories to the world.

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