Earlier this summer, the Village of Igiugig received the Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Award from the Alaska Center for the Book. The center is part of a nationwide network designated by the Library of Congress. The award recognizes individuals and groups that promote literacy throughout the state.
Igiugig, a Southwest Alaska community of about 70 residents, has pursued big things from its little library. What started as a small community bookshelf in the early 1990s has grown into a robust institution. Today, the library is housed in the school building and run by the Igiugig Tribal Council.
The library isn’t just a home for books; its projects include a summer reading program, a bilingual Yup’ik and English oral history project to document Native stories, a bilingual children’s book and an interactive story walk around the village. The library is also running a language revitalization program in six communities around Lake Iliamna, creating virtual language labs to help preserve Native culture.
The president of the Igiugig Village Council, AlexAnna Salmon, said the community’s deep history is the foundation of their work.
“We are governed by our Indigenous value system that has remained constant since time immemorial, despite all of the efforts and years of colonization. We feel tribal sovereignty very strongly. We have a strong relationship with our environment and maintaining relationships with each other. And this deep sense of community that, you know, spans thousands of years of existence here,” she said.
Salmon and several other community members have applied for numerous grants to support Igiugig’s library. She said much of their project funding comes from the Alaska Public Libraries and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Igiugig has strong reading and writing programs, and the village has paved the way for other communities to adopt similar projects. For example, Library Supervisor AJ Gooden is helping more libraries replicate Igiugig’s oral history project, Niraqutaq Qallemcinek, or Story Bridge in English. The first partner to work with them is the Curyung Tribe in Dillingham.
The Story Bridge expansion is supported by a grant from the Association of Global Libraries, Archives, and Museums and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Gooden has also been instrumental in publishing the Igiugig library’s first bilingual children’s book in Yup’ik and English, and hopes it will be widely read by kids throughout Alaska. She said this latest award gives them the energy to continue their efforts.
“We are surprised and delighted and it fuels the fire for going forward. You know, we know ourselves that it’s a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s also fun to have other people recognize it and enjoy it. So it’s very encouraging,” she said.
Academics from outside the state, including those from Harvard’s Nation Building program, have also come to Igiugig to study the village’s history, literacy, and technology initiatives, like its hydrokinetic power system. Salmon said having a library and a highly engaged community has given them agency in that research process.
“This has brought in relationships with researchers in a way where our village controls the research happening, and we use the library as a forum to gather and have dialog, conversations or feedback on some of the research being done,” she explained.
The award was given to the entire community, and both the organizers and recipients said each project is a true team effort. Salmon, said the award has allowed her to reflect on and appreciate what they’ve done.
“It’s just something that we should be proud of,” she said. “And we don’t take often a lot of time to just celebrate, but we have access to amazing resources and year round internet in our community.”
Carol Sturgulewski, who oversees the Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Awards Committee, said recipients are often people who wouldn’t get larger recognition otherwise.
“Because they’re doing it in a small way and they’re not in it for glory and or money or whatnot. And those are things we think should be rewarded,” she said.
The Alaska Center for the Book is always looking for nominations. More information can be found at alaskacenterforthebook.org.