Lotsee Patterson: Advocate for Library Services for Native Americans

Dr. Lotsee Patterson accepting a Beta Phi Mu Award in 2001. Image ALA0003570.

In 2005, the American Library Association announced that it was naming Dr. Lotsee Patterson as one of its honorary members, the Association’s highest honor. It is little wonder that the ALA gave this honor to Dr. Patterson given her lifelong passionate advocacy for quality library services and programs for Native Americans.

Born in 1931 and a member of the Comanche nation, Dr. Patterson grew up in rural Oklahoma. Dr. Patterson recalled some of her first encounters with books and the excitement of receiving books in the mail from the state library. She remembered how she couldn’t read the books her mother received, but that she enjoyed pretending to read them before she eventually struggled through them. Reflecting on this experience years later, Dr. Patterson noted, “I resent librarians who say to kids, ‘Honey, don’t take that book because you can’t read it,’ because of my own experience.”[1]

Dr. Patterson started her career as a teacher, later crediting this work in developing her passion for library services in Indian country and would consider her time teaching as a period of life awakening. Then she received a government fellowship to attend library school at the University of Oklahoma and worked on her degree while taking care of a family of five children at home.[2] She finished graduate school in 1969 and would later receive her PhD in Educational Teaching from the University of Oklahoma in 1979.

Joining ALA around 1971, she brought her perspective as a Native American librarian to raise awareness and to advocate for tribal libraries to the Association. In 1973, she, along with Charles Townley and Virginia Matthews, helped to form the Subcommittee on Library Services to Native Americans within the ALA Office of Literacy and Outreach Services.[3] This subcommittee would lay the groundwork for the formation of the American Indian Library Association (AILA). Several years later, in 1979, Dr. Patterson co-founded the AILA in conjunction with the White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library and Information Services on or near Reservations.

Dr. Patterson’s other work has included being an active member of the AILA, ALA, and Oklahoma Library Association, establishing the International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum, and serving as an advisor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. For her work, she’s received numerous honors and awards, and has been called, “one of the most outspoken advocates for equitable library services for American Indians in the history of this country.”[4]

When thinking upon her legacy in an interview during the 1990s, Dr. Patterson considered the fact that as early as 1973, she had started around eight community libraries in the pueblos. She also brought up the ways that she consulted and helped tribal libraries in developing library services, considering it to be her legacy to the library profession, but Dr. Patterson also acknowledged that she wasn’t ready to quit.[5] As an outspoken advocate, prolific writer, and mentor, Dr. Patterson has given much to the profession and to tribal libraries.

 

1. “Patterson Interview,” Kathleen de la Pena McCook Papers, 1976-2012, Record Series 81/1/20, Box 3, Folder: Women of Color In Librarianship-Subject Interview-Patterson, American Library Association Archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

2. Ibid

3. Zora Sampson, “An Interview with Dr. Lotsee Patterson, a Founding Member of AILA,” American Indian Library Association, July 30, 2014, http://ailanet.org/35-anniversary-lotsee-patterson/

4. “Patterson, Taylor Named ALA Honorary Members,” American Library Association, February 4, 2005, http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=archive&template=/contentmanagement/contentdisplay.cfm&ContentID=155846

5. “Patterson Interview,” Kathleen de la Pena McCook Papers, 1976-2012, Record Series 81/1/20, Box 3, Folder: Women of Color In Librarianship-Subject Interview-Patterson, American Library Association Archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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