days you get up and go to work, you answer the phone, write some e-mails,
and sit in meetings. But some days you get up and go to work, and your
life changes. January 14 and 15, 1999, were two of those days. As staff
members of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we were given the unique
opportunity to travel with some New Mexico State Library staff members
on a visit to five Native American libraries to meet tribal librarians,
leaders, and community members. During this trip we began a conversation
(which has continued to this day) about the special circumstances surrounding
library services for Native communities. Much of this discussion has focused
on barriers to technology and Internet access for tribal libraries, but
we've also heard about ongoing efforts for culture and language preservation,
the importance of flexibility and respect when working with tribal communities,
and the preparation method that makes Jemez enchiladas simply amazing.
Our first trip was arranged
by Ben Wakashige, the New Mexico state librarian, as part of a planning
visit in anticipation of implementing the foundation's grant program for
public libraries. (For more information on the U.S. Library Program, visit
During the 2 days of meetings and site visits, we listened and we learned.
Of all the information exchanged, the most important piece was and still
is this fact: Tribal libraries serve a vital role for their communities
and patrons, and in order for a program from a foundation to make a valuable
impact, the design for awarding and implementing grants must be developed
with tribal input.
Our initial contact led
to a yearlong process of continued listening and learning, extensive meetings
with tribal elders and children, community and library leaders, and other
key players in the New Mexico library community who were intimately familiar
with the particular needs of these tribes. During the year we developed
our grant program, we also met with American Indian library leaders and
others working with tribes and technology to get advice and to gain perspective
on how best to design our grant program. Tribal leaders spoke of their
desire to use technology to interest children in their Native language,
and artists described creating art with digital tools and marketing their
work through the Internet. Educators expressed interest in culturally appropriate
software and online resources. Students wanted the opportunity for quality
educational experiences without having to leave their reservations. Patrons
hoped for hands-on training at a comfortable pace. All this work and the
contributions of many voices resulted in the establishment of the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation's Native American Access to Technology Program
(NAATP). We hope this program is as much theirs as it is ours.
Understanding the Need
New Mexico is home to 19
Pueblos and two Apache reservations. In addition, the northwest corner
of the state houses more than one-third of the Navajo Nation. As we traveled
miles between tribal library sites, we were able to enjoy the expanse of
country that makes the American Southwest so spectacular. Once outside
Albuquerque, power lines, phone lines, and cell towers ceased to block
our view. They also ceased to provide services on Native lands.
Many reservations lack the
basic infrastructure—roads, power, water, and communications—that we take
for granted in urban areas. According to the 1990 Census of Population,
just 53 percent of Native households on reservation and trust lands have
telephones, compared to 94 percent for all American homes. And while many
Americans consider a home computer a necessity, just 15 percent of all
Native households have a computer and only 10 percent have Internet access.
Many tribal schools have
computers, but they are few in number and have limited Internet connectivity.
Often because of liability reasons, members of the community not affiliated
with the schools cannot use the computers, and even students have restricted
use during school hours.
By contrast, a White House
Report titled Information Technology Research and Development: Information
Technology (January 21, 2000) shows nearly half of all American households
now use the Internet, with more than 700 new households being connected
every hour. More than half of U.S. classrooms are connected to the Internet
today, and 62 percent of U.S. children in the 8-to-15-year-old age group
are now going online.
"Tribes are not staying
abreast of the technological revolution," says Alison Freese, tribal libraries
consultant for the New Mexico State Library. "Computers—and libraries for
that matter—are not traditional Native American concepts. In addition,
it's hard to make a case for libraries and public access to computing when
issues such as healthcare, housing, drug and alcohol counseling, even telephone
connectivity are pressing."
But increasingly, these
libraries are becoming key information centers for tribes, offering book
collections and services that support the unique information needs of their
communities. In addition, many of the priority issues for tribes are dealt
with at tribal libraries. Besides checking out books, library workers often
act as counselors, day-care providers, and grant writers. Many host programs
for the elderly and offer adult education courses. They agree to stay open
late or on weekends if someone requests their help. The strong commitment
of tribal librarians to their community makes libraries ideal locales for
providing public access to computers.
Amazingly, these libraries
provide vital services to communities on shoestring budgets. The tribal
librarians that we've met have worked for years providing services with
more determination than resources. We've visited tribal libraries located
in traditional adobe structures, old Bureau of Indian Affairs buildings,
and portable units. Invariably, the library room or building is filled
to capacity with collections and patrons jockeying for space. Tribal libraries
are brightly decorated with traditional pottery, weavings, and paintings.
Conversations, punctuated with much laughter, take place in both English
and Native languages. Sometimes artisans will bring jewelry to sell. On
a really good day, someone will bring red or green chile and bread or tortillas
These libraries enjoy varying
degrees of support from tribal administrations. While the vast majority
of tribal councils recognize that tribal libraries are important for the
community, not all are able to provide funding at levels adequate to support
and sustain a quality library and computer program. Even among those isolated
Native American communities that have made significant progress toward
self-sufficiency, only limited resources are available for library and
information service support. An inconsistent revenue source often leads
to position elimination, high turnover of underpaid staff, and grant-driven
projects that cannot be sustained once the original grant monies run out.
State Senator Leonard Tsosie has been successful in passing legislation
for permanent funding for the New Mexico State Library to expand services
to tribes. Currently, 47 sites and their staffs are supported with an annual
budget of $270,000.
"A yearly budget of $270,000
only goes so far," says Freese. "We're getting there, but most of our sites
had only one computer and a dial-up connection. We knew the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation could provide so much more."
All of the tribal librarians
we met with clearly stated they would like to provide their patrons with
public access to computers and the Internet. None was satisfied with the
current level of service. Few libraries can afford state-of-the-art computers.
Instead, many were using donated, pre-owned computers with little or outdated
software and failing components. No library had a dedicated Internet connection,
and many reported extremely slow speeds and dropped connections with their
"At the Jemez Community
Library, we had one computer [with Internet access]," says Tamara Sandia,
library assistant at the Jemez Pueblo Community Library. "It was common
to see 10 or more children crowded around it at a time."
NAATP's Goals and Mission
The Native American Access
to Technology Program is designed specifically to empower Native communities
through increased access to digital information resources. The program
aims to work with tribal leaders, librarians, and educators to preserve
local culture and heritage and to provide opportunities for technology
training through access to computers and the Internet.
Three major components benefit
tribes: equipment, training, and technical support. Each tribe is eligible
to receive between two and four computers, a black-and-white laser printer,
and Internet connectivity equipment. The computers come with pre-loaded
software chosen based on user interviews. In addition, tribes can request
additional equipment, such as a scanner, digital camera, headset microphone,
color printer, and projector. Each tribe that's awarded a grant will also
receive a visit from foundation staff for installation and training. On-site
training focuses on both applications and systems administration, and includes
classes for both staff and community members. Finally, each site receives
technical support for the granted equipment for 3 years through a toll-free
number. Technical support will assist tribes with a wide variety of problems
from ordering a replacement for a failed network interface card to explaining
templates in Microsoft Word. (See sidebar
for specific information on hardware and software provided.)
NAATP began installing PCs
in New Mexico in spring 2000. To date, 20 tribes have received equipment
and training. Training for the 110 chapters of the Navajo Nation was completed
in June 2001. Installation and training for tribes in Arizona, Colorado,
and Utah began in August. An additional grant phase for Arizona, Colorado,
Utah, and New Mexico tribes will begin in the spring of 2002 and will include
a competitive grant round for a content server and/or training lab. Additional
funding will also be available for nonprofit support organizations that
work with tribes for cultural and language preservation and technology
To successfully apply for
a grant through NAATP, sites have to demonstrate tribal support for the
grant. We ask tribal leadership to verify that the computers will be available
to all community members, that the technology budget for the tribe will
not be reduced, and that the tribe will make its best effort to keep the
computers functioning. We also make ourselves available to discuss the
program at tribal council meetings. Through these discussions, we've grown
to appreciate the complex issues that tribal leaders confront when making
decisions about integrating technology into their communities.
Like many others in Native
American communities, library staff at Jemez are acutely aware of the need
to close the "digital divide"—the growing social and economic gap between
those with access to computers and technology and those without—between
themselves and the larger U.S. population. "Computers—that's where the
world is going. We don't want to have our kids left behind," says Sandia.
The Impact of the Grants
Jean Whitehorse, a training
and outreach coordinator for the New Mexico State Library, proved to be
invaluable in helping us address issues that led to our credibility and
acceptance in Native communities. She told us about the importance of diversity
in our approach and staff. "People want to see their own people understanding
progress," says Whitehorse. "If we can see our own people mastering something
new, we are more likely to accept it and understand how it can benefit
us." So our foundation staff now includes Native trainers. In addition,
we developed an intern program with New Mexico tribal colleges that taught
students to serve as on-call training and technical help for tribes for
Initially our program faced
questions about the negative aspects of Internet connectivity. "It was
my job to go into these communities and explain to the elders and officials
the benefits of having computers and an Internet connection," explains
Whitehorse. "Many of them felt bringing computers would take children's
interest away from their community traditions and families and would expose
them to bad things."
Whitehorse says she explained
to the elders that there are good things and bad things about everything—including
computers. "But if you use the computer in the right way it can be a great
tool." She also explained that there would be explicit rules and guidelines
for use so children couldn't view inappropriate material.
Still many balked, "We can't
read and write; how are we going to use computers?" Whitehorse told them
that the computers could help tribal literacy programs, and she reminded
them that many Native American elders gamble in the casinos. "I told them
if you can use those machines at the casino, you can use the Internet—and
you won't lose any money, either," she says with a laugh.
On-site training has proved
to be a very valuable aspect of our grant. All New Mexico tribal libraries
received a week of training. Because we believe computer users learn best
when they have their hands on a keyboard, trainers traveled with a mobile
training lab so that up to 10 people could train at a time. In the morning,
staff received intensive training on applications so that they could assist
patrons with office, reference, and art programs. In the afternoon, community
members were invited for applications training. We've worked with students,
elders, tribal administrators, teachers, and many other groups all interested
in learning more about computers.
Joe Sullivan and Jackie
Yabeny were two of the foundation's trainers who were sent to New Mexico.
"Most of the people we trained were total beginners," says Sullivan. "In
the communities that had computers, people were struggling to use them."
Sullivan says he witnessed many "Aha!" moments when users finally realized
what certain commands or functions were for.
Yabeny remembers teaching
a young woman who became teary as she was learning Microsoft Word. "She
was just so happy to be learning new things."
Having spent the last year
training certified librarians elsewhere in the country, Sullivan was struck
by how attentive his New Mexico audience was. "When I was working with
the librarians [in other states], we'd chat and joke around as the training
was being conducted. At the reservations everyone was so quiet and focused—sometimes
it was hard for me to tell if they understood me—but they did. I learned
a lot about the power of listening."
For many communities, these
training sessions offered a unique opportunity to discuss what they could
do with computers. Ideas included improving community outreach efforts
by creating newsletters, creating artist cooperatives, building Web sites
or online "trading posts" to sell art, creating college and scholarship
search classes for kids, using Excel to do tribal budgets, and designing
letterhead to use when applying for government grants. In one area, staff
from a cultural center planned to work with students to record the stories
of veterans who had served with the U.S. military.
Of course, children had
other ideas about how to best put the computers to use. "At the Zuni Pueblo
Library, I remember the kids were just exploding. They just went to town
using the games and art programs," Sullivan recalls. When working with
students, Sullivan taught them how to use other computer tools, including
a digital camera, scanner, and graphics programs. Many of them went home
from an afternoon session with elaborate cards and artwork to show their
As tribal libraries slowly
adopt technology, both patrons and staff become excited by the possibilities
for learning. Sherry Aragon, an artist from Acoma Pueblo, remembers being
recruited to work in the Acoma Learning Center. "I wasn't working at the
time, and the library asked me if I'd like a job," says Aragon. "They told
me, 'We're going to turn this library into a computer center.' I said 'Are
you sure you want me? I can barely do a VCR!'"
Through AmeriCorps, the
library enrolled her in computer classes in Albuquerque in 1999 and she
was an active participant in the NAATP training last year. Now Aragon is
teaching computer classes to adults and seniors at the Acoma Learning Center.
She plans to attend New Mexico State University and study library science
because she values being able to provide her people with information they
Initially, she says, kids
seemed to be the only ones interested in using the library. Intrigued by
the computers, the kids came in to play games and surf the Internet, but
their interests soon expanded to reading groups, story times, and art classes.
Aragon says adults would look in the door and think the library was just
for young people. Then the library staff started giving away free bookmarks
to kids who brought in their parents. Parents got a tour and explanation
of services and could sign up for free computer classes. Now, Aragon says,
adults regularly stop in to look up information on the Internet, write
letters, or do their resumes. In the last 3 months adult computer use has
increased by 45 percent. "As more adults realize the value of the computers
they tell friends and relatives. It's good for them and they reinforce
the importance of using the library and understanding technology in their
With the Gates Foundation
providing an increase in technology for tribes, the New Mexico State Library
has been able to shift its funding to library services' needs. It has been
able to provide tribes with cash grants for collection development, workshops,
conferences, and special projects. In addition, the State Library has been
instrumental in developing and implementing an online public access catalog
project for all New Mexico tribal libraries—the Athena project. This project
has greatly increased the services that libraries can provide for their
patrons and has increased the libraries' standings in their communities.
"As many tribal libraries have been tracking books by hand or not at all,
getting Athena [the OPAC] was really a sign that they were becoming a real
library," says Freese.
Jean Whitehorse currently
conducts Internet training at Navajo chapter houses and libraries throughout
the state, showing adults and elders where to find and how to use important
information on topics ranging from diabetes care to veterans' benefits.
Says Whitehorse, "When people can find information for themselves—and don't
have to travel hundreds of miles to do it—they feel empowered."
In the midst of our fall
2000 installation, the foundation contracted with the Daniel J. Evans School
of Public Affairs at the University of Washington to undertake a formal
evaluation of the NAATP program efforts. The general purpose of the evaluation
process is to assess whether the goals and objectives of the program are
being met and to utilize information gathered from the evaluations to improve
the program as it is being implemented. The school used a combination of
observation visits and interviews with tribal staff and members to create
a preliminary report. A more detailed evaluation is underway, including
in-person interviews with tribal elders, patrons, and librarians at all
The findings from the preliminary
report show that the NAATP is well-received in Pueblo communities and is
having a positive impact on library use, literacy, and computer proficiency.
Because of isolation and the state of economic development on most reservations,
the full potential of the NAATP will take longer to realize than similar
programs in more urban areas. At the same time, the extent of change for
these communities promises to be more significant than in other parts of
For most Native lands in
New Mexico, Internet connectivity is still the largest obstacle to realizing
their new technological potential. Most communities are still limited to
a single dial-up connection, which means they can't access many Internet
sites. Because most tribes are remote with sparse populations, it's not
cost-effective for phone companies to invest in copper wire or fiber lines
to connect them.
The NAATP, in conjunction
with OnSat Network Telecommunications, is currently installing a two-way
satellite setup that will ensure bi-directional, high-speed Internet access
to these remote communities that have been awarded a specific NAATP grant.
(Choosing a satellite Internet option provided many challenges. When evaluating
satellite providers, we worked to find a stable platform that would offer
high performance at a reasonable cost.) Now, we're working with organizations
that provide content to leverage the Internet connectivity for maximum
Although all NAATP grant
sites have access to the foundation's technical support line, the report
shows there is a need for additional on-site technical help. Several tribes
have IT staff working in tribal administrative offices that help out from
time to time, but consistent support is needed.
Possibly the best news is
that the cooperative efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
staff, the New Mexico State Library, and the various grant sites have led
to high levels of commitment and satisfaction for all individuals involved.
New Mexico state librarian Ben Wakashige believes the foundation grants
will increase the visibility of this important tribal resource. "I think
the Gates' infusion enabled us to pull forward very quickly. Where there
was one [computer], there's now five," says Wakashige. "And Gates gives
us an opportunity to be the information center for the community."
Others agree. "This working
with and for each other is really a part of the Native American tradition,"
says Alison Freese, the tribal libraries consultant. "It's what makes us
strong—we look forward to reaping the benefits of our continued collaboration."
The Program's Next Steps
Currently the foundation
does not have any plans to expand NAATP beyond the Four Corners area of
Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. We have learned that each tribe
needs to be worked with individually and cooperatively over an extended
period of time for each side to feel that the collaboration is a success.
We know that we still have more to learn, so we are concentrating on the
work ahead of us before we decide whether to expand our scope. We do know
that the Gates Foundation and those of us who work for it have benefitted
greatly from this program. Our perspective and understanding has broadened
and deepened. We believe the best way we can honor the inspiring efforts
of the tribal libraries and librarians we have met is to share our story
and to support their work.
For more information on
these libraries and how you can support the Friends of New Mexico Tribal
Libraries, please visit http://www.stlib.state.nm.us.
The computers granted by
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are custom-built by Gateway from
specifications we've provided. Current hardware components include:
— Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
Processor — 1.4
GHz Pentium 4
Memory — 256 MB
Hard Drive — 40
Video Card — NVidia
GeForce 2 MX
Sound Card — Creative
CT 4870 Sound Blaster Live!
NIC — 3COM PCI 10/100
CD-ROM — 20/48X
Floppy Drive — 1.44
MB Standard Floppy Drive and Iomega Zip 250 Internal Drive
In addition, tribes are
eligible to apply for the following components:
Printer — HP 4100TN
Color Bubble Jet Printer
— HP 932C
Projector — View
Digital Camera —
Sony Mavica MVC FD92
— Labtec 8550
Scanner — Image
Deck Stand-Alone Scanner
All computers are delivered
with substantial software for production and clerical work, reference,
art and culture, and children. These include: Microsoft (MS) FrontPage;
MS Publisher; MS Image Composer; MS Office including Access, Excel, PowerPoint,
and Word; Encarta Encyclopedia; Encarta Africana; World Atlas; World English
Dictionary; Internet Explorer; Adobe Photoshop; Adobe Illustrator; GIF
Animator; Real Networks RealPlayer and RealProducer; Arthur's Brainteasers;
Arthur's Math Carnival; Arthur's Reading Roundup; Creative Writer; The
Magic Bus Series; and Success Builder Algebra I and Geometry. In addition,
all sites are granted a year's subscription to SoftLine's Ethnic NewsWatch,
an online, full-text database that includes Native publications.
NAATP Grants to
(as of September 2001)
Program to Date
of Equipment Grants
of Cash Grants