Featured Collection: PUL’s Indigenous Studies Collection

The Indigenous Studies Collection in November 2023.

The Indigenous Studies Collection in November 2023. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson.

In October 2022, Princeton University Library (PUL) took a step towards promoting the study and appreciation of Indigenous cultures and histories by unveiling its Indigenous Studies Collection. The resource was born out of a vision to center Indigenous voices and perspectives. 

The launch of the Indigenous Studies Collection was timed to coincide with the Munsee Symposium held that same year. "My inspiration for the new collection came from a visit to the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) Library where they have a Living Land Acknowledgement," said Anu Vedantham, Assistant University Librarian for Teaching, Research, and Social Sciences and liaison for Indigenous Studies. “Marcia Tucker from the IAS Library gave me a tour of their print collection and explained how they had created it in collaboration with faculty members.”

Vedantham worked closely with her PUL colleagues, including Steve Knowlton, Librarian for History and African American Studies, Marie Wange-Connelly, Head, Physical Collections and Inventory Management, and Patty Gaspari-Bridges, Assistant University Librarian for Collection Development, to identify a suitable location. The chosen space, strategically placed on the first floor of Firestone Library within easy reach of the Discovery Hub, encourages engagement and conversations about Indigenous studies.

The collection itself was carefully curated with the help of the Princeton American Indian and Indigenous Studies Working Group (PAIISWG) members and Suzanne Conklin Akbari, IAS Professor of Medieval Studies, who helped identify  the initial set of books. The 2022 Munsee Symposium participants were welcomed to suggest additional items, contributing to the collection's richness.

"Rick was the first researcher to use the new collection,” Vedantham noted. “He is researching connections between Native American and African American history in the Tinton Falls section of New Jersey."

Researcher Ric Geffken sits in front of the Indigenous Studies Collection

Researcher Rick Geffken sits in front of the Indigenous Studies Collection. Photo credit: Anu Vedantham.

One of the hallmarks of the collection is the diversity of its contents. "I was very moved by the book 'We are the middle of forever: Indigenous voices from Turtle Island on the changing Earth,' edited by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth,” Vedantham said. “It features many Native authors and is a recent compilation of first-person narratives." Vedantham also had the opportunity to discuss the collection with Rushworth, gathering suggestions to further enhance its offerings.

PUL is also taking steps to enrich the collection’s data by adding tribal affiliations to the catalog. Beck Davis, Catalog & Metadata Services Fellow, has worked diligently to enhance the collection's content. 

“I can gladly say we added enriching metadata for individuals representing more than 35 Indigenous groups from North America, Central America, Polynesia, and Micronesia,” said Davis. “I worked with 31 items: one item already had the Indigenous contributing individuals listed within its bibliographic record and twelve items had no discernable Indigenous contributors. The remaining 18 received enriching metadata consisting of individuals' names and their Indigenous affiliations (groups, villages, tribes, nations).” Davis’ efforts can be viewed in both PUL’s catalog and through worldcat.org 

Pulitzer-prize winning  poet Natalie Diaz paid a visit to the collection in December 2022, and the collection features two of her poetry books, including "Postcolonial Love Poem." The interaction between Diaz and Native graduate students and faculty members underscored the collection's role as a meeting point for academic and cultural exploration.

Then, in February 2023, Wendy Red Star, an Apsáalooke multimedia artist, visited the collection. “I love her book Delegation,” Vedantham said. “Her sense of humor and creativity inspires me.”

The Indigenous Studies Collection extends its reach to local history, featuring John O’Meara's dictionary and various works focused on the region. 

"Please feel free to borrow books from the new collection — for up to four weeks. And if one is unavailable, let us know, and we can work on finding a copy from a different location," Vedantham said. “I welcome suggestions for titles to consider for addition to the collection.”

Related Reading: PUL hosts Inaugural Lunaape Language Camp in its Makerspace

Published on November 15, 2023

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications