American Indian Resource Center Coordinator
Tulsa City-County Library
MLIS, University of Oklahoma, 2010; MS, Curriculum and Instruction, Oklahoma State University, 2001
American Indian Resource Center, www.tulsalibrary.org/airc
Photo © 2014 Michael Pilla
In the nine years that Teresa Runnels has been with the Tulsa City-County Library, she has been “a huge community builder for the American Indian Nations, bringing together five different nations to preserve Native American languages,” says Gary Shaffer, CEO of the library. Runnels, who is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, was spurred by predictions that many languages would go quiet within 50 years. “Tribal languages are the key to access to an entire world of indigenous knowledge,” says Runnels. “The language opens access to tribal histories, literature, cultures, medicinal knowledge, and more.”
Preserving that verbal heritage is a complicated task, owing to the many unique traditions. The state of Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized tribes, many forced together by early European settlers.
Along with the County of Los Angeles Public Library, Tulsa is one of only two U.S. public libraries with a center dedicated to American Indians. As American Indian Resource Center coordinator—and founder—Runnels oversees a collection of in excess of 4,000 books, magazines, newspapers, and other media written by or about American Indians.
She also oversees native language programs. A former teacher, she’s developed a children’s curriculum in two native languages. Beginning in 2006, she worked with the Euchee Language Project and the Sauk Language department, as well as the Oklahoma Department of Education, creating math and language worksheets designed to expose young children to basic words, pronunciations, spelling, and numbers in accordance with the state education standards. The American Indian Resource Center has given away 500 packets, garnering awards from the state of Oklahoma, the Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission, and the Tulsa Human Rights Department.
Runnels reaches out to adults with bilingual “READ” posters. Following the American Library Association’s design, the posters feature members of 12 tribes with the word “READ” in their native language and in English.
She also coordinates Osage language classes, trains tribal librarians throughout the state, and organizes two biennial celebrations honoring American Indian storytellers and leaders. “I love working with tribal members and seeing their obvious pride when they attend library programs and events dedicated to Native American culture…[and] giving children from various tribes further connection to their rich family history,” says Runnels.