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October 31, 2014

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‘Talk Story,’ Sharing American Indian and Asian American Culture at the Library

By Michelle Lee

The logo for “Talk Story” is simple—a panda and polar bear reading a book together. The cute drawing illustrates the program’s goals: to improve family literacy, to promote cultural identity and self esteem, and to help American Indians and Asian Americans share their stories.

SLJ TalkStory Richfield logo 244x300 Talk Story, Sharing American Indian and Asian American Culture at the LibraryThe joint program of the American Indian Library Association (AILA) and the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) also offers grants to libraries in need who wish to hold a cultural program for local American Indian and Asian American families and want to add more diverse materials to their library collections. The deadline for the 2014 application is February 15.

“Talk Story” encourages libraries and readers across the country to explore American Indian and Asian American literature. The website has extensive suggestions for storytime ideas, related activities, and book lists displaying recommended readings for children, tweens, and teens with a wide variety of American Indian/Native Alaskan and Asian American novels and tales.

The idea for creating Talk Story began in 2009 when then American Library Association President Camila Alire asked all five ethnic library caucuses to create self-sustaining family literacy programs and provided $4,000 for each program, Talk Story co-chairs Liana Juliano and Lessa Pelayo-Lozada says.

Juliano, whose goal was to spearhead the program for AILA, contacted then-APALA president, Sherise Kimura, and the groups decided to collaborate on a group project with an informational website, a database of story time ideas, promotional materials, and an instruction manual.

AILA members created a book list featuring works all by native authors, as well as lists for recommended games, crafts, and refreshments that would be appropriate for story time events, Juliano says. The site also includes guides to help readers evaluate books on Native American for racial bias or stereotypes. The website includes books for 15 different ethnic groups, multiracial families and a list of other recommended authors and illustrators.

During the 2010 pilot program, seven libraries in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico and New York participated and most libraries received a $900 grant to run an American Indian or Asian American cultural programs and purchase books and other cultural-related materials, Juliano and Pelayo-Lozada says. All of the libraries also got donated books from Bess Press, Kamehameha Press, the University of Hawai’i Press, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Milkweed Editions, Kids Can Press and Charlesbridge Publishing.

Talk Story programs in action

As part of the Talk Story program, the Hercules Library of the Contra Costa County Library System in Hercules, CA, celebrated Philippine Independence Day last June with traditional music and dancing by the Kapwa Dance Ensemble, songs by the Sincerity Girls, a local Filipina American girls’ choir, and a talk about Filipino history, among other features, says Gia Paolini, the youth services librarian.

The event drew about 170 people, many of whom showed up in traditional outfits, Paolini says. The celebration was also supported by other community groups, including the Filipino Association of Contra Costa County, the Association of Filipino Americans of Hercules, the Fil-Ams of Hercules and the Hercules Senior Citizens Club.

The Hercules Library was thrilled to receive the Talk Story grant because it allowed the staff to organize a cultural event, which the library was unable to do for two years because the city is close to bankruptcy, Paolini says. The grant also provided funds to replace and add new books to the Filipino children’s book collection. “That was really the high note,” Paolini says. “We were able to partner with people in our community and offer them something we haven’t been able to in a few years, really reconnecting with this culture in our community.”

SLJ TalkStory Richfield Jingle Talk Story, Sharing American Indian and Asian American Culture at the Library

Talk Story at the Richfield (UT) Library.

The Richfield (UT) Public Library held a series of summer programs for American Indian children, says Robin Davis, the children’s librarian, who worked on the project with librarian Sophie Adison and intern Jordan Masaquaptewa.

The library held a mini powwow with Grandma Colleen Kanosh and her dance troupe. Other activities included storytelling, crafting and learning about traditional foods, Davis says. “It was a great time to read some books and bring the whole community together and have crafts and discussions for the kids,” she says about the programs, which drew 15 to 30 children.

The Talk Story grant also helped the library add 30 new fiction and non-fiction books and 20 new DVDs. Davis says expanding the DVD collection was important in the remote south-central Utah city because “it’s very hard for kids and the Indian community to see movies with Indian actors, Indian culture and Indian life.”

With the new DVDs, Davis says the library provides documentaries such as Reel Injun, a film about Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, and Racing the Rez and Up Heartbreak Hill, focused on high school students. “Indian families can access it [and] it allows the rest of the community to see that portion of Indian life,” she says.

SLJ TalkStory Jamestown 28 Talk Story, Sharing American Indian and Asian American Culture at the Library

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library

At the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library in Sequim, WA, Talk Story enabled two cultural programs in 2012: a traditional salmon bake and S’Klallam storytelling program with Elaine Grinnell and a “story pole” workshop for children, says Leanne Jenkins, the library’s planning director.

The best outcome? After Talk Story ended, the students who attended the cultural events started coming to the library on a weekly basis, as opposed to once a month, Jenkins says. “I just think  the program is really a tipping point in engaging the children in the programs at the library,” she says.

Talk Story funding and growth

Funding for Talk Story continues to grow. In 2011, AILA and APALA provided $1,000 in grants, and AILA also provided $500 in grants for 2012, Juliano and Pelayo-Lozada say. Toyota Financial Services partnered with Talk Story the following year and provided $2,000 for library grants in 2012, $5,000 for library grants in 2013, and $6,000 for library grants in 2014, Pelayo-Lozada says.

Talk Story is open to volunteers who want to contribute donations and book list and story time ideas, Pelayo-Lozada says. The best part of supporting Talk Story is the ability to provide programming and collection development funds to native and tribal libraries with small budgets or might not qualify for other library grants, Juliano says.

Pelayo-Lozada says the program can connect libraries and patrons to books about all kinds of Asian Americans, including groups that are less well-known, such as Polynesians.

“From the APALA perspective, for us, the model minority stereotype is still pervasive in society,” she says. “This grant gives us the opportunity to bring awareness of the wide variety of cultures in the APA designation and give people resources they can use.”


Michelle Lee is studying library science at Pratt Institute, New York. She previously worked as a newspaper and online journalist for Patch.comthe Bergen Record, Press of Atlantic City, and Providence Journal.

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