Libraries are an important part of a healthy, vibrant community. Preserving culture, whether it be art, music, film or literature, is a powerful societal bond. The library as a community center also has several benefits for those that utilize it. In addition to providing content, libraries in the digital age enable patrons to make their own content and share it with the rest of the world.
The Oneida Indian Nation Library offers its patrons a number of relevant materials to educate, communicate and distribute information directly to the community it serves while also strengthening the Nation’s cultural heritage. Incorporating American Indian culture in the library empowers Nation Members and employees to take advantage of everything the independent library has to offer. Even its design, which is styled after a traditional longhouse, invokes the culture of the Haudenosaunee.
Kathy Sochia, the Library Administrator, works to keep her collection up-to-date with materials of interest to the Oneida Nation community: “I try to bring cultural elements inside so the community becomes invested in the library,” she says pointing out the Native artifacts around the room. “And the bulk of our non-fiction are Native books so there’s a lot you might not find at other municipal libraries.”
Sochia is in charge of cataloguing, ordering, shelving and checking in and out over 10,000 items that are available in the Nation Library. She works hard to develop personal relationships with patrons to determine what they like to read or watch in order to keep the library stocked with what they want.
“We’re a lot more intimate than a municipal library,” Sochia says. “I try to get to know everybody that comes in on a regular basis.”
That provides a unique opportunity to really understand the needs of the community. Among the culturally relevant materials available are books on lacrosse, beading and other American Indian arts and crafts. The library is also developing a reference section full of publications that are no longer in print and are difficult to find. Most of these items provide cultural perspectives or language references significant to the revitalization of the Oneida Language program.
Sochia states that in addition to patrons using specific resources that relate to American Indians, many crafters in the Oneida community check out books on historical items they may be working on, such as regalia, as a reference point for how these items were made, how they were utilized and what raw materials were used to create them.
“Period items need to have accurate historical depictions to be replicated correctly,” she says. “Many of the books here are richly illustrated and detailed with that information.”
Having moved from Dream Catcher Plaza and the former Early Learning Center on Territory Road, the Nation Library has found a permanent home in the atrium of the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center. The library now works closely with the current ELC to aid teachers with any materials they may need in addition to providing Nation Members and employees access to its services.
“The library is one of the children’s favorite places to visit,” Tricia Narolis, Manager of the ELC, says. “Kathy pulls and delivers books weekly to our preschool and pre-k classrooms based on the weekly themes of study.”
The center’s older toddlers, preschool and pre-k children visit the library weekly to listen to stories read by their teachers. Sochia regularly brings in guest speakers and authors to supplement what the children are learning in the classroom. Several children also visit the library with their parents and take out books to read at home.
“We are lucky to have the library here in the C&E and to have Kathy as the library administrator,” Narolis says. “She really goes out of her way to bring books into the classrooms.”
The Oneida Nation takes every opportunity to preserve its culture for future generations. This is one of the most important functions of any library. Sochia appreciates that mission and continues to provide the most relevant content for the Oneida Nation community: “It’s really important to get to know who you’re serving and get to know them personally as well as you can.”
The Oneida Nation Library’s services are available to Nation Members, children of enrolled Members, Health Services clients and Nation employees. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Free Wi-Fi is available and materials can also be reserved through the library’s online database, OPAC. For more information call (315) 829-8200 or visit www.oneidaindiannation.com/education.