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Native American Collections at the Cal Poly Humboldt Library

Native American Studies Librarian Joan Berman originally compiled this history of Library collections in 2000. Minor revisions were made up until her retirement in July 2014.


The Library's collections on North American Indians are extremely strong, matching the RLG/ARL Conspectus category of "Research Level" in general and "Comprehensive" with regard to Northwestern California Indians1. This collecting strength goes beyond the curricular programs of a single department and reflects the longstanding University commitment to the subject matter as it is integrated into the content of courses and programs throughout the departments and colleges. These collections serve as a major research resource for the northwestern California community as well as for students and scholars who may be engaged in research on Northwestern California Indian subjects.

Conscious, systematic collection building began in the early 1970s with the founding of the Native American Studies program and the Ethnic Studies Department (now two departments), as well as the language programs initiated by the (now) Center for Indian Community Development, the curriculum emphasis of the (now) Indian Teacher & Educational Personnel Program, and the science focus of the (now) Indian Natural Resources, Science & Engineering Program. The Library hired a bibliographer, Sally Roggia, specifically for the purpose of building these collections, although substantial attention had been paid to the subject area from the earliest days of collection development. At the present time the Library's approval program for purchasing books includes a separate profile for "Indians of North America" which functions across all subject areas to ensure research level collecting.

**Unfortunately the Library book budget was drastically reduced beginning in 2004–05.**
**The approval program was discontinued; however, the Northwestern California emphasis has been maintained, in part through generous donations.**

In the main collection, books on American Indians are found throughout the call number sequences, so it is difficult to estimate a total number of titles or items held. However, a significant proportion of the materials are concentrated in the call number range E51-E99. At the end of the 2001-02 fiscal year there were 4,803 items, or 1.05% of the main collection; 217 items were added during the year. Circulation for 2001-2002 was 2,220 items, or 2.28% of the total collection circulation, substantiating the use of these materials at more than double the average rate of circulation for the whole collection.

Important materials on North American Indians are located in other areas of the Library as well, adding immeasurably to the overall strength of the collections.

  • U.S. Documents. The Library became a U.S. depository in the mid 1960s and inherited the original northern California depository collection from the Eureka City Library. This added publications from the Bureau of American Ethnology and the Smithsonian Institution as well as Serial Set and Census schedules. The Library currently selects approximately 50% of depository items.
  • Reference Collection. Such important works as Schoolcraft and the Indian Law Reporter are routine parts of this collection. Indian language dictionaries are collected, although they are located in the main collection. See Sources on North American Indians for a bibliography of major works in the Cal Poly HUmboldt Library.
  • Microfilm Collection. It was early recognized that microfilm of research collections specific to Northwestern California Indians would be invaluable to local users. The first such purchase made in the 1980s was Part II of the Papers of John Peabody Harrington (MF2411), a Bureau of American Ethnology linguist whose work on Karuk Indians is seminal. This collection is from the National Anthropological Archives.

In the 1990s major University of California Berkeley manuscript collections were microfilmed and made available for purchase. A campus grant allowed the Library to buy the Alfred L. Kroeber Papers (MF2635) in 1997. In 2002 three more of the Berkeley collections, C. Hart Merriam Papers (MF2639)Collection of Native American Photographs (MF2640) and Ethnological Documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology (MF2641), were acquired. In addition, the Library recently received a contemporary research collection, the Smith River Rancheria Archive (E99.T7 S53 2002). This collection on 51 cd-roms includes copies of original documents from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), San Bruno and other archival repositories.

During the 1980s and 1990s ITEPP was also acquiring material on microfilm, most notably Indian School records from NARA, Record Group 75 and others. In 2011, this collection of microfilm was transferred to the Cal Poly Humboldt Library and is available as NARA Microfilm Publications (MF2664).
Children's Literature and Curriculum Collections. Materials for both of these collections are selected in coordination with and support of the Curriculum Resource Center at ITEPP.

  • Humboldt Room. "The Library's Special Collections complement the resources of the general Library collections. They are acquired and maintained in support of the University's curriculum with emphasis on the natural resources, Native peoples, and primary industries of Northwestern California, including the history of Cal Poly Humboldt." In the late 1960s the Humboldt Room curator, Frances Purser, worked closely with Wayne State University anthropology professor, Arnold Pilling, and the University Photographer, Peter Palmquist, to develop photographic collections documenting Northwestern California Indian subject matter. From this collaboration came the RobertsSchoenrockHover, and Ericson Photograph Collections. Major manuscript collections, e.g., Susie Baker Fountain Papers and Andrew Genzoli Collection, are rich in local Indian materials.


The Library has long been committed to providing access to its unique Northwestern California Indian collections through bibliographies and indexes. An Annotated Bibliography of the History of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, by J. Carlyle Parker in 1960 contains a section on Indians. Mayo Short compiled The American Indian : A Bibliography of Childrens' Books, Material in the Humboldt State College Elementary School Library, Humboldt State College, Arcata, California in 1969.

Joan Berman published Ethnography and Folklore of the Indians of Northwestern California: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography in 1986 and maintains a webpage of Native American resources. In 1997 she was appointed Special Collections Librarian in charge of the Humboldt Room where she began a program of computerizing and digitizing both indexes, or finding aids, and collections. These are now available to users anywhere on the California Digital Library's Online Archive of California as well as the HSU Library Special Collections website.

1 Counties included: Humboldt and Del Norte, with some coverage of Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino. Tribes included: Tolowa, Yurok, Karuk, Hupa, Chilula, Wiyot, Sinkyone, Mattole, Nongatl, Lassik, Wailaki.