Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2004

Internet Services to the Northern St’at’imc, British Columbia

by Shiela Pfiefer, Chief Librarian, Lillooet Area Library Association

On the banks of the Fraser River, about halfway down its length as it bisects the Province of British Columbia, lies the Village of Lillooet and its outlying communities. High in the Coastal Mountain range, six of these communities have their own tribal government systems as part of the Lillooet Tribal Council of the Northern St’at’imc. Almost 50 percent of the population of Lillooet is First Nations, living on and off reserve.

The Lillooet Area Library Association has developed free high-speed public Internet access available on six public access computers in three branch libraries, in partnership with the Federal government under the Community Access Program (CAP).

Unfortunately, it’s not always a question of “ build it and they will come”. The Library service area encompasses all of the people within roughly a two-hour driving radius of Lillooet, with two thousand in the village and a total of five thousand in the district municipality. But without any public transportation, access to the libraries can be difficult for those without vehicles, and without training, access to the Internet highway will also be a problem. The native population, with a history of an oral tradition, working hard to preserve their own language and culture, does not readily access the library’s programs.

So the question arose, how best to deliver library services and programs to those having difficulty accessing them in the library? Enter the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the BC Public Library Services Branch, stage left.

In 1990, a Gates Foundation grant put a portable computer laptop lab in the Victoria offices of our Provincial Public Library Services Branch. The lab could be borrowed, free-of-charge, by any library wishing to conduct Internet training sessions. Libraries could reserve the lab online through the ministry’s website, and the big metal cases containing the lab components and set-up instructions would arrive by courier, again, free-of-charge.

At the same time, the Public Library Services Branch of the Ministry of Municipal, Cultural, Aboriginal, and Women's Services (MCAWS) was sponsoring a highly effective program called, Youth @ BC (Y@BC) that involved funding for students to work in many of the libraries Province-wide for three months in the summer, offering Internet training to staff and the general public. This was a “match made in Heaven” for our purposes.

MCAWS offered training for Y@BC students by bringing the students and their library mentors to Vancouver, to the University of British Columbia campus, high on a promontory overlooking the Pacific. Booking the students into the summer spaces in the University dormitory houses, staff and students trooped around the campus to our training venues, for two days of intensive training on how to teach Internet courses, how to write pamphlets on Internet training for various client groups, how to use the Gates portable lab, and a screening of two video presentations about Internet safety.

Home again in Lillooet, the lab was booked through the Ministry website and the students made arrangements with the Indian Band Offices to bring the lab out for free training sessions on reserve. For some students, this would be their first visit to a reserve, despite the fact that they had grown up in Lillooet, so it was with a little trepidation that they set out on their first training mission to the T’it’qet reserve. Fortunately, they had the assistance of two First Nations students who were working on other Library summer projects to help with the initial contact, bookings at the Band Offices, and with the training sessions themselves. Without their help, these on-reserve training sessions would likely have had a cooler reception and would definitely not have been as much fun. When the computers were set up, band members started to arrive, and from nine in the morning until nine at night, all four students were busy training children, teens, adults, and grandparents in all different aspects of the Internet. Groups would arrive and wait their turn with the computers, and so they came and went all day. The kids learned about kids’ sites with games, projects, and homework help. The parents learned computer basics and how the Internet works. Others learned how to make a web page for their home-based business making beaded jewelry, how a spreadsheet works, and how to access eBay! The lab has been successfully taken to four bands so far, and the program will no doubt continue.

The Lillooet Library has made a conscious effort to attract local First Nations students who have left the area to seek higher education, enlisting them to return home for the summer to help in one of the Library’s three summer programs. Sponsored by the Federal program, Summer Career Placement, or Young Canada Works in Heritage Institutions, operated by the Canadian Library Association, these students have been an invaluable asset in the delivery of these programs to the St’at’imc people on and off reserve. They have also worked on improving the Library web page, developing pages on the St’at’imc heritage and the St’at’imc Language Centre. After a consultation with the pre-school on the T’it’qet reserve, they also added a “Top Ten” for pre-schoolers’ parents to access titles they could then request from the librarians.

The Y@BC students have also been invited on reserve to talk to a gathering of First Nations entrepreneurs on the value of marketing on the Internet. When the class numbers grew so large that the library could not accommodate everyone, training session have been offered to the general public in the on-reserve Internet lab on T’it’qet reserve. The N’Xwisten Education coordinator has gathered groups to come into the Library after the library is closed in the evening for two-hour sessions on computers and Internet access.

Our three library branches are part of the CAP, which provides occasional sustainability funding for the free public access services across British Columbia and Canada. The CAP program also provides student funding for Internet training programs, and last summer the Library offered Cybercamp programs to teens on the T’it’qet reserve at their Youth Centre and at the Lillooet Library. The teens learned how the Internet works, how to make simple web pages, how to print t-shirts with images downloaded from the net, and net etiquette. We hope to continue with other Cybercamps in the coming years.

Web Awareness, designed to help young people access the Internet, is another Internet training program offered at the Library. The focus of this training is safety and awareness of the dangers of incautious use of chat rooms. Developed at the National level and available for licensing at minimal costs to the libraries, these packages are available for children and adults. Web Awareness Day in the Library in February is the focus for this training. Last year we approached the local Sparks, Brownies, and Guides and invited them to come to the Library for this special training. Again, the children responded with enthusiasm and spent several evenings in the library chatting with Guiding groups in other parts of the world, taking an Internet Safety quiz, and talking about some of the dangers found on the Internet. Our four public access computers handled the groups easily, with four sharing each computer.

We have developed literacy programs, which involve the pre-schools on reserve by offering “Blue Boxes” full of library materials chosen with First Nations’ children in mind for use by the teachers, parents and children. These are rotated between the pre-schools each month, and then brought back in to refresh the contents. We also invite the children from these schools to the Library each month for a special storytime with songs, finger plays, and stories. In cooperation with the St’at’imc Language Centre and the elders of the Tribal Council Language Committee we have translated into St’at’imc the baby book that is included in the gift basket for every newborn in Lillooet. The translation is put in each book just underneath the English words, by printing the words on clear labels. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the first book we translated, and we hope to make audiotapes to accompany each book, with the song sung and spoken in both languages.

Our experiences developing First Nations Library services have shown us that forming connections where possible with their cultural and service organizations is very important. Having a St’at’imc person as a Board Member for most of our years of operation has also provided insight into their outlook on Library services. By participating in children’s summer reading programs with the Lillooet Indian Friendship Centre, we have also helped the off-reserve Indian children maintain their reading skills. Gradually the relationships are built up over the years and allow the Library services in our service area to grow, meeting the needs of the people we serve.

For further information please contact Sheila Pfeifer, Chief Librarian of the Lillooet Area Library Association, or visit their website.