Associate Professor Colin Rhinesmith Awarded IMLS Grant For Work With Tribal Libraries

Associate Professor and Community Informatics (CI) Lab Director Colin Rhinesmith has been awarded a $517,078 grant (award #LG-250043-OLS-21) by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to study digital inclusion and broadband access in tribal libraries, in partnership with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM). 

Rhinesmith is working with School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) student Malana Krongelb ’22MS, a graduate research assistant working in the CI Lab. “I am passionate about how Black activism and Native activism are interconnected,” says Krongelb. An ethnic studies major as an undergraduate at Brown University, Krongelb “learned from so many incredible Native professors and student activists. I was immediately drawn to this project. My racial justice work has focused mainly on Black liberation because that is my background, but it’s important for me to put in the work on Indigenous liberation — that’s what solidarity is.” 

Krongelb describes community informatics as “putting the people back into technology. How does the social aspect affect how people interact with technology? How do race, colonialism, class, gender, and ability affect these interactions? How does technology build communities, and how is access to technology affecting those communities?”

We’re trying to change the model of big institutions telling Indigenous organizations what they should be doing.

Krongelb co-wrote the IMLS grant proposal with Rhinesmith, ATALM President/CEO Susan Feller, and Director of Programs Melissa Brodt. Krongelb will provide administrative and research assistance on the project. “I’m using my ethnic studies knowledge, librarianship knowledge, and personal experience while learning so much about digital equity through the CI lab.” The CI Lab and ATALM have been integrated into every aspect of the grant, as they’ve been working to become more equal partners.

“We’re trying to change the model of big institutions telling Indigenous organizations what they should be doing,” says Krongelb. “Instead, we’re supporting this work by being a conduit through which these funds can flow. Tribes can self-determine what their digital inclusion needs are rather than us saying ‘you need XYZ.’ We are here to support ATALM and the five tribal libraries in whatever ways we can.”

During the first phase of the grant, the team will survey tribal libraries around their digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure needs. 

“We want to know what their technology infrastructure and needs are, especially in the wake of the pandemic,” she says. The collected data will inform an update to ATALM’s 2014 report, “Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries,” detailing challenges and strengths. Findings from the survey will help to inform the next phases of the project.

A summit is planned for October 2021, gathering everyone invested in the field and the tribal librarians to brainstorm possible solutions tailored to each library and community. The convening will also address broadband speeds in tribal libraries, per Rhinesmith’s previous grant, and decide what equipment — makerspaces, furniture, hardware — is needed. 

Rhinesmith noted, “I am incredibly honored to have this opportunity to work with ATALM and Malana on this project to help identify and address the digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure needs of tribal libraries across Native America.” 

The CI Lab will work closely with ATALM and the tribal librarians to create a guide for making the libraries more digitally inclusive. The guide will be posted on ATALM’s website and distributed to other tribal and rural libraries that face similar challenges. ATALM has selected tribal libraries in five states throughout Indian country to include in this project.

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