A collection of books on Sikh faith and traditions is now available at Oak Creek Public Library in a one-of-a-kind collection.
About 120 books, movies, and other cashier items are on display at Oak Creek, making up the largest collection in the state and possibly the country.
“We did a search and couldn’t find any other library that had items on display like this,” said Jill Lininger, director of the Oak Creek Public Library.
The goal is to help others in southeast Wisconsin and across the state learn more about the Sikh religion, the 5th largest religion in the world.
The collection has been made available to the state Department of Public Instruction and will also be used to inform public school curriculum.
“I want to encourage people to learn more about Sikh communities and our beliefs,” said Gurjot Singh Ghotra, a student from Franklin High School who spoke at the unveiling of the collection on Saturday. “At school, many of my classmates ask me why I wear a turban. They ask out of curiosity, and I appreciate that. Now I can let them know that they can understand it on a much deeper level by reading about it here at the Oak Creek Library.”
A few dozen members of the Sikh community gathered in the library to celebrate the unveiling, carried out in partnership with the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.
Gurlal Singh was there with his son Abhiraj. Both avid readers, they were excited to see the collection they can now access and to guide others when they have questions about their religion.
Gurlal is part of a group that visits local high schools to learn about the Sikh religion.
“When we walk in the mall or in the airport or outside, we stand out because of the turban,” Gurlal said. “There are misunderstandings and racist attacks because of that. But if people know more about the turban, and more about us, they feel more reassured.”
The group that celebrated the collection in Oak Creek did not escape the fact that they were in the same town where, nearly 10 years ago, a A white nationalist opened fire on worshipers in the local temple, killing six people.
Punjab Singh, a famous Sikh priest, died in 2020 of complications from gunshot wounds he suffered in the attack and is believed to be the seventh person killed by the gunman.
“We have all faced this indescribable tragedy, and it is a community that has rebounded stronger than ever,” said Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who attended the unveiling. “None of us in this room allowed this horrific act to hold us back. It shouldn’t have happened, but it’s how we react in those moments that defines us all.”
Responding with a celebration and education of Sikh culture is exactly what this collection sets out to do.
This grew out of a collaboration with Lininger, former U.S. District Attorney Jim Santelle, who closely investigated the 2012 Sikh temple violence, and Sikh temple official Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal.
Lininger said they had to browse through all of their book sellers and even connect with Dhaliwal sellers and friends in India to bring the collection together.
“Dr Dhaliwal gave us the names of some publishers, but they sell everything in rupees, so they wouldn’t accept our credit card, and they wouldn’t mail us either, so that was a challenge,” said Liner. “Fortunately, Dr. Dhaliwal was able to connect with some of his friends in India, and they bought the books from us, and then they shipped them to him, and he brought them to us.”
Dhaliwal did not attend the unveiling as it was the morning of the loss of his wife, Amrit Kaur Dhaliwal, who died earlier this week. She also participated in the conservation of the collection.
“How we meet for this reason in a library, among the shelves of books and where we expand our minds,” Santelle said. “The very books, bindings and pages that tell stories of our lives are forever, now open to all of us, with library cards, right here in Oak Creek.”
Residents of Milwaukee County can view books from the Oak Creek Public Library’s Sikh Collection, and others visit the library’s collection at 8040 S 6th St., Oak Creek.