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Field Report: Washington Branch Library is Truly a House of Knowledge
By Sarah Bosarge
January 31, 2003

Chief Skulka's Pole - Burke MuseumHave you made it over to the Burke Museum yet to see the current featured exhibit "Out of the Silence: The Enduring Power of Totem Poles"? Distance MLIS student Tomi Whalen has a special relationship to the exhibit and what it represents. Tomi is part of the staff of the Little Boston Branch of the Kitsap Regional Library located on the Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation, right across from the carving shed where she observes tribal elders carrying on the artistic traditions of their culture.

Three S'Klallam carvers helped to create the large screen that graces the entrance to the Burke exhibit. It is the largest known cedar relief carving in the Northwest and eventually it will be placed in the new tribal longhouse to be built as part of the House of Knowledge, a center for living culture, lifelong learning, and contemporary education. The 14 original tribal longhouses were burned down nearly 100 years ago and the community has not had a center representing native architecture since that time. This is an exciting project for the S'Klallam people and for the Little Boston branch that serves their community. When the House of Knowledge is completed, the Little Boston Branch will also be a part of this complex.

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation became the first reservation in the state of Washington to have a library when the Little Boston Branch opened in 1974 in a 600 square foot A-frame building. The branch was the idea of tribal chairman Ron Charles. He had always loved the bookmobile and thought that the community needed its own permanent library. The branch operated in that tiny space for 15 years, and then the tribe received a grant in 1988 to expand the library. Little Boston moved into its present location in 1989. Since then, circulation has increased 700% and the library staff are now looking forward to doubling their space to provide more services to the community.

The branch has always benefited from the support of the tribal council, and Tomi sees it as a place where relationships between the tribal and non-tribal communities can be built. The branch has a special collection of materials about Native American history, art, and tradition. In addition, the branch provides space for programs that draw people from both communities to learn about the S'Klallam culture. The branch functions as a focal point in the community for the kids as well, many of whom jump off the school bus and head straight in to do their homework and use the computers. This, for Tomi, is the most rewarding part of working at the branch.

The Little Boston Branch is succeeding. In 1999 they were awarded the "Excellence in Small and/or Rural Public Library Service Award" by the Public Library Association. In announcing the award, U.S. Representative Jay Inslee stated, "Public libraries are the great equalizer in our society as they ensure free and unlimited access to invaluable educational resources for anyone who simply has the desire to learn. Libraries enhance the knowledge of not only ourselves, but also the world around us. Great libraries, like Little Boston, deserve our utmost praise and recognition. Employees continually go above and beyond the call of duty with their exceptional service to its patrons and commitment to provide enriching and informative information to everyone in the community."

Tomi believes that being part of the House of Knowledge demonstrates this vision. She also hopes to inspire people from the tribe to consider library service as a career. Toward that end, she was part of the iSchool Diversity Committee and participated in reviewing the revised Statement on Diversity. "Knowledge is life with wings," is Tomi's favorite quote from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. She hopes that the Little Boston Branch inspires the people in her community to use their wings.

For more information, visit these links:

Kitsap Regional Library-Little Boston Branch

Burke Museum Online Exhibits

Port Gamble S'Klallam Woodcarvers

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