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Nebraska tribe nets new, improved library

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WINNEBAGO, Neb. - Getting a chance for a breather, librarian Gretchen Healy expressed the pleasant tiredness she's been experiencing.

"You have no idea how much work it is to spend $300,000," Healy joked about the new library the reservation will open in early 2004.

In connection with the expansion of the Little Priest Tribal College that received a $2 million grant from the Lily Foundation about four years ago, Winnebago's community library will be moving 200 yards away. The differences in the facilities though are a galaxy apart.

More than 9,000 square feet, the three-level edifice offers versatility for both the public and student populations which the present library, built in 1954 and was the previous laundry facilities for the then mission school, has long been antiquated. Healy noted there will be more flexibility in how the new building will be used, and how greater access can be accommodated with the rooms being multi-purpose, rather than the tightly-confined conditions of the half-century old building that's less than one-third in size and is crammed with books almost stacked to room-height.

"Did you want a tour of what's here," asked Healy from her paper-littered desk in the small office of the older library. Though I didn't realize there was more "to see" than what was already in front of me. "Did I miss anything," was my immediate response. An even faster reply by Healy was "The hole and we charge a dollar for a look as our fundraiser."

The relocation can't come soon enough before the dead of a Plains winter bears its fullest brunt. The roof covering the aged building neither slopes down nor is flat but instead caves inward, collecting up to 500 gallons of rainwater or snow that eventually caused structural damage.

Asking for a one-dollar admission fee for gawking at the gap in the ceiling doesn't actually reflect the relatively healthy financial position Healy is presiding over. Once the new library was constructed out of a log cabin kit for $750,000 from the Lily endowment, another $375,000 from two separate grants by the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program completed the building. The furnishings will come courtesy of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the tune of $100,000 under TCUP (tribal colleges and universities program).

Located on the campus of the Little Priest Tribal College, 60 percent of the patrons of Winnebago's library are from the general public. The HUD grant emphasizes how post-secondary campuses can partner with their towns when both populations, such as a joint library, are brought together.

"The college learns because it's out in the community and sees those needs and the community benefits because the college can adjust the curriculum and training opportunities," Healy said.

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Although the interior of the new library is vacant, Healy beams with excitement when showing off the property. Describing where the various departments will be placed, such as the children's reading room in the corner near the front entrance and the public Internet computer stalls in the middle of the second level. Her job as librarian, which she's held for 10 years in Winnebago, is now as much interior decorator and financier as it is to be a book purchaser and information dispenser.

Another $141,000 was received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal institution that annually bequeaths to, among other places, libraries belonging to American Indians and Alaska Native populations. This past September, $1.7 million were received by 13 Aboriginal institutions. Funds are available to those tribes wishing to seek out grants and who are prepared to write the requests, Healy stressed.

With this money, Healy expects to hire two full-time professionals. One will be an assistant librarian to concentrate on the needs of children and young adults. The other vacancy will be for a teacher within the community technology center that will have space for 14 computer terminals.

"When people want to learn digital photography or do their taxes on software, there will be a person to teach them and the equipment to learn to do these things," Healy said.

Actually, with the resources at her disposal, the acquisition of more books will be nominal. With 13,500 items on the shelves, Healy only expects to obtain a couple of hundred more books although the new library could have space for up to 30,000. What is within the library's goal is to become the source of Indian information for the tri-state area (including Iowa and South Dakota) surrounding Sioux City over the next few years.

"We're particularly proud of our Native American collection and we have ambitions of being the premier sight for three states to do research," Healy said about the 3,000 Indian-related items that she hopes will expand by another 500 before too long.

Parading up and down the stairs of the quiet building, for all of the plans Healy has, all of a sudden 9,000 square feet don't seem so large. There's an additional classroom for the college; a kitchen already installed; a television and multi-media room; and there's even thought about using some of the space for an aerobics and small health center.

The planning and limitations are almost dizzying.

"It's a lot of work ... but it's also a lot of fun," Healy exclaimed.