Local libraries see surge in Indigenous materials being checked out

Kitchener Public Library has seen an increase in demand for Indigenous materials.

Libraries across the country have seen increased interest in Indigenous materials

Kitchener Public Library has seen an increase in demand for Indigenous materials. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Kitchener Public Library and Waterloo Public Library have seen a surge in interest in Indigenous materials.

"We're seeing a demand from the local community for all sorts of information either about the Indigenous experience, and especially written by Indigenous peoples,"  said ​Lesa Balch, Director of Technologies and Content at Kitchener Public Library.

Balch said books from authors such as the late Richard Wagamese and Thomas King have been very popular.

The library has multiple copes of Starlight by Wagamese, but there's currently a hold list for the book.

King's novel The Inconvenient Indian being checked out "plenty" of times, said Balch.

Gord Downie's Secret Path and Jeff Lemire's graphic novel about Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous boy who died while running away from residential school, have been popular as well.

"An older book that's written for teens called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been checked out almost 300 times. It was published in 2007, but it is being read by teens and continues to be read," said Balch.

According to Balch, it's not just fiction books that are being taken out.

She said books about the residential school system as well as truth and reconciliation have had great interest while DVDs of the film Indian Horse and Wind River have been "checked out constantly."

"Anyone should be able to come into a public library and see their lives and experiences reflected in the resources we have at the library," said Balch.

"I think people really want to understand the Indigenous experience better, so that's why we're seeing books about truth and reconciliation being checked out, books about the residential school experience being checked out. I think there is a desire to try to better understand the Indigenous perspective."

Collection of 100 Indigenous picture books

IBBY Canada, a non-profit company that focuses on children's literature, is working on that.

They've created a project called From Sea to Sea, showcasing a collection of 100 Indigenous picture books by Indigenous authors and illustrators that were all published in Canada.

Mary Beth Leatherdale, president for IBBY Canada and co-chair for the project, said they started this project back in 2016 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions call to action, but added it's a "natural project" for them.

"Our core mission is to support the right of every child to become a reader through access to high quality books," said Leatherdale.

The goal for the project is to help families, libraries, educators and people who "just aren't sure" where to start with Indigenous literature.

Publishers taking notice, poet says

Ashley Hynd, a mixed-settler Indigenous poet and writer, says the news of an increased interest doesn't surprise her.

"I don't think it is an increase of demand necessarily so much as that demand has always been there, but the value hasn't been seen by institutions that publish, so I think it's more just that people have realized that there's actually Indigenous writing being published now," said Hynd.

"The population that's always been wanting or needing representation finally have access, and that's why it seems there's a demand in stuff."

Hynd said talks about reconciliation in Canada have made people interested and aware when it comes to Indigenous issues and content.

She also believes the publishing world had a lot to do with the increase.

"For the longest time there was the ability in Canadian literature to kind of delude themselves and roll over their eyes to think that there was only a certain type of writing that mattered," said Hynd.

Expanding collection

While Leatherdale thinks the increase of Indigenous materials in library is "fantastic" news, she still thinks there is more work that can be done.

"I would say for myself and other non-Indigenous Canadians, we need to be better educated about Indigenous cultures and histories and realities and better understand the truth of our history as settlers, and reading is a wonderful way to make this happen."

Balch said she is currently working to incorporate more titles listed on From Sea to Sea into the Kitchener Public Library.

"We're trying to assure that we are in fact purchasing those materials, and what we're finding is when we purchase them sure enough, they go out, there's a demand for them," said Balch.