Feature Librarian – Melissa Rave from Salt River Tribal Library

By AzLA Newsletter
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Name and Location Address: Salt River Tribal LibrarySecond floor
Way of Life Facility (WOLF) 11725 E. Indian SchoolScottsdale, AZ 85256

Website: 

http://www.srpmic-nsn.gov/government/recreation/library(link is external)

Type:
Public library
Tribal Library

Way of Life Facility (WOLF)
Way of Life Facility (WOLF) aerial view 

The Salt River Tribal Library is located within the beautiful Way of Life Facility (WOLF) on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Now, the content of these feature articles usually encompasses the library and the administrator of the library, however, one cannot define the Salt River Tribal Library and its administrator without beginning with a description of the community and the WOLF. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is a sovereign tribe located in the metropolitan Phoenix area. Bounded by the cities of Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, and Fountain Hills, the community encompasses 52,600 acres, with 19,000 held as a natural preserve. With two distinct backgrounds and cultures, the community is comprised of two Native American tribes: the Pima, “Akimel O’odham” (River People) and the Maricopa, “Xalychidom Piipaash” (People who live toward the water).

Way of Life Facility (WOLF) Lobby Entrance 1st Floor

The community proudly owns and operates several successful enterprises, including the new Way of Life Facility (WOLF), Talking Stick Golf Club, Talking Stick Resort, Salt River Fields, Salt River Devco, Casino Arizona, Salt River Sand and Rock, Phoenix Cement, Saddleback Communications, Salt River Financial Services, and Salt River Landfill. The 

Way of Life Facility (WOLF) Lobby 2nd Floor

WOLF celebrated its grand opening in March 2018. The 119,000 sq. ft., two-story community center includes a natatorium with a 6000 square foot recreational pool, indoor gymnasiums, indoor running track, fitness space, full-service kitchen with dining area, and office and classroom space. In addition, the 14.3-acre site has a skate park, baseball and soccer fields, BBQ stations, restrooms, sprayground, play areas, and most importantly, a library. Though this library is located within a giant metropolitan area, it is impossible not to observe its rural and small community feel. 

Way of Life Facility (WOLF) Natatorium

Tucked away on the northwest side of the second floor of the WOLF, the library has been located in this facility since January 2018. It is one of 16 tribal libraries in Arizona and before moving into the WOLF, was under the purview of the Salt River Schools. It has expanded in its new home and now has a growing collection that includes a unique collection called the Sebastian Juan Memorial collection. It houses materials of the O’Odham-Piipaash (Pima-Maricopa) mainly, but also houses books of other tribes related to the Pima and Maricopa Indians. The library offers standard library services to residents, however the staff of this library have developed the library into a hub of social activity within the community before COVID.

The Salt River Tribal Library Stacks Area
50th Anniversary Celebration April 2019

For over 50 years, the Salt River Tribal Library has made a social and cultural impact on people in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The Schools Assistant Superintendent, Cynthia Clary, claims the library has served as a cornerstone in the whole community. It has given the people of the community the opportunity to find jobs, explore new topics, experience new ideas, and get lost in wonderful stories, while at the same time providing a safe place for learning and gathering. The small rural library is 1271 square feet.  The collection of the library contains 21,825 volumes and circulates 31,975 items per year with a service population of 6,289. In addition to the books, dvds, audio books, and periodicals, the library has a bank of 18 public use computers. Access to the internet in the community is challenging and the library offers broadband and free wifi throughout the facility. PreCOVID services hours were Monday through Thursday 9am -8pm, Friday  9am-7pm, and Saturday 9am-5pm.

Half the computer room full with an after school coding class for kids

 Pre-Covid Services were normal library service provision one would expect for a rural public library including storytime, computer classes (one on one mostly), youth programming, family nights once a month with games, unplugged games nights, evening family story times, and crafts. The staff always serve food with every event and the library becomes more like a social center for the people than a library. There are also special service offerings like kids STEM activities once a month, where children may build something with Legos or do some normal fun science things like making ordinary items giant. One event started with giving the children air     cannons, then making one giant air cannon out of a trash can. Another special activity is Science Day. One event had staff helping the kids form bubbles from dry ice that the children could then hold. 

Science Day with Dry Ice Bubbles

The library closed on March 18 in response to the pandemic and the governor’s stay at home order. The community was quarantined by Tribal Government and they have defined a set of phases for reopening. The community is still in lockdown and the library building remains closed. There is still no circulation, no in house events, and if there is programming, it is done from home by library staff through zoom. However, the library has kept churning out programs for the Community during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that Community members stay active in their pursuit of information. The staff has been able to offer a virtual book club service and she encourages the use of the State Library’s service, Reading Arizona. The director really enjoys the virtual meetings where she talks books with patrons, delivers Storytime over zoom, and calls out bingo on family night. All her service marketing now is done through their Facebook page with notifications being pushed to patrons about upcoming events. 

Librarian Melissa Rave

The director’s name is Melissa Rave. She began her education at Scottsdale Community College and earned an Associate’s degree in Psychology. She continued at NAU, working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and wanted to become a school psychologist. Before finishing her degree, she took a job in education at Scottsdale Unified School District where she worked for 8 years with special needs children across all grades K-6. She then moved to a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded school at Salt River Elementary School where she became a paraprofessional in the library. In 2017, the library lost many employees at once  and she applied for and was hired as a library assistant. She went on to become the librarian when the library moved into the WOLF in 2019. Melissa has 4 full time staff, 3 library assistants and one department admin. Pre-COVID, Melissa claims the public use computers and internet services were the most popular and demanded service offerings. Post-COVID, of course it is the zoom events she has been offering. Her favorite service provision is the STEM activities with children, like the air cannon example mentioned, however Post-COVID her favorite work is doing storytime with families for the children and the adults. 

As has happened with every interview the Newsletter has done this year, throughout the interview with Melissa, she addressed each question with a Pre/Post-COVID scenario. When asked about the biggest challenge and benefit of being a tribal library director, Melissa started with her Pre-COVID answers. Her biggest challenge by far has always been marketing to a small community that lacks the large base of other PHX public libraries. She claimed “here in the tribal community, we compete with all the other tribal services offered, the library is under recreation and we have to compete with sports leagues and school activities. If one of the other departments is having an activity, we can’t schedule anything or we won’t have anybody show up. Also we have the Tribal Council meetings to compete with, the community may have to be somewhere else and have to choose from very small windows of time.” This is countered by her greatest benefit – connecting with the community. She loves bringing new exciting services to her community, especially STEM and Technology. She gleefully admitted “seeing the children light up when they hear about something new, or if they are already learning about something and we intuitively offer the same information, that feeling is really hard to match. Or offering digital learning skills, or any new skills, when we show one or two new people how to use the computer they are so grateful and that is a great emotional benefit.” 

Her Post-COVID answers were somewhat subdued however she still lit up when describing the new benefits she is realizing from the virtual services. Currently, her biggest challenge is not being able to provide services from the building. She sadly explained “that we have no building, no circulation, no physical presence where people can count on us being there for them.” She goes on to remark (with much more enthusiasm) her biggest benefit now is the same as Post-COVID, making connections and seeing how grateful her patrons are for the services she is able to provide. She smiled as she reflected on the gratitude her community shows just from “seeing us” she claimed that gratitude was inspirational saying that “connecting families to information resources remotely, it may not be the same as in house, but it is still gratifying.”

Melissa and Children’s Storytime

After hearing her describe her greatest benefits from being a tribal library director, it was no surprise when she revealed her favorite library story. Of course, it had to do with connecting with her community. She was able to describe it in detail as if it happened yesterday though it took place almost exactly one year before our interview on December 18, 2019. She had planned an event to coincide with the release of a new Star Wars movie. The night the movie was released she scheduled a family night and showed the movie. It was Christmas time and Melissa did not think anyone would show up, but to her surprise, the library was  packed with more than 55 people (in 1100 square feet space). They played a trivia game, and had a legos competition. She also offered a crafts night with bead working and served Star Wars themed food. She was so proud to have reached the most diverse crowd ever in the library. An event that she thought would be unattended, ended up being the most fun event of all time. The event led to an increase in attendance at all family nights after that. She believes that innovation led to this turning point, saying “now people realize that the library wants to do things with the community and they have responded.” The event led to a Dr. Suess family night which was a great success as the Star Wars night, then COVID hit. Now the families even say, they miss the family night’s the most. 

It was such a pleasure to get to know Melissa during our time together. She is creative and outgoing and I found her to have the true library vibe I see in so many of our state’s librarians. She enjoys several hobbies that include Bead Working and Native American Arts and Crafts. She is also a cyclist and enjoys riding her bike on the Beeline Highway. When I asked her to describe herself in two words, Melissa immediately mentioned persistent and patient. She has established programs and services in three years that did not exist before her tenure. While creating these programs, she has had to be patient and persistent, nursing each development through the process to completion. She believes this is her secret to her success. She claims these characteristics are a lot of who she is and what she does. She made a list of what she wanted to accomplish her first month as librarian and she is still working from that list. Persistently and patiently, with the tenacity of a true librarian. Her next big goals are to increase the number of computers and expand to a second location. I found Melissa to be a visionary and she sees many opportunities in the next two or three years. She claimed “there are so many possibilities, I am a problem solver, and a positive person, there are going to be many opportunities and possibilities…I really want to expand service provision to the community, especially to continue remote service provision as we move forward.”

This interview was such a delight, I did not want it to end and could have sat talking with Melissa all day. The same with the writing of this story, it has been such fun to reflect and recall my time with Melissa, that the day just flew by and it did not even feel like I was working on my day off. It is librarians like Melissa that provide me with certainty that our profession will continue to grow and strengthen as we adapt and move into the future. Her connection with her community and the relationship of mutual gratefulness cannot be duplicated by automation, nor technology. That, my friends, is why our libraries continue to thrive even in these most uncertain of times.

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