A collection of books on the Sikh faith and traditions is now available on the Oak Creek Public Library in a one-of-a-kind collection.
About 120 books, movies and other items available for purchase are on display at Oak Creek, forming the largest collection in the state and possibly the nation.
“We did some research and couldn’t find any other libraries that have added items on display like this,” said Jill Lininger, director of the Oak Creek Public Library.
The goal is to help others in southeastern Wisconsin and throughout the state learn more about the Sikh religion, the fifth largest religion in the world.
The collection was 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 about the Sikh communities and our beliefs,” said Gurjot Singh Ghotra, a student at Franklin High School, who spoke at the collection’s unveiling on Saturday. “In school, many of my classmates ask me why I wear a turban. They ask me out of curiosity and I appreciate it. Now I can let them know that they can understand it on a much deeper level by reading about it here at the Brook Creek Library. Oak”.
A few dozen members of the Sikh community gathered in the library to celebrate the opening, held in partnership with the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.
Gurlal Singh was there with his son Abhiraj. Both avid readers were excited to see the collection that they can now access and point others to when they have questions about their religion.
Gurlal is part of a group that goes to local high schools to teach students more about the Sikh religion.
“When we walk in the mall or the airport or outside, we stand out because of the turban,” Gurlal said. “There are some misunderstandings and racist attacks because of that. But if people know more about the turban and more about us, they feel more comforted.”
It was not lost on the group that held the Oak Creek collection that they were in the same town where, nearly 10 years ago, a White Nationalist opened fire on the faithful at the local temple, killing six people.
Punjab Singh, a well-known Sikh priest, died in 2020 of complications from gunshot wounds he sustained in the attack, and is considered to be the seventh person killed by the gunman.
“We are all dealing with this unspeakable tragedy, and this is a community that has bounced back stronger than ever,” said Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who attended the opening. “None of us in this room allowed that horrible act to get us down. It shouldn’t have happened, but how we respond in these kinds of times is what defines us all.”
Responding with a celebration and education of Sikh culture is just what this collection aims to do.
It came about through a collaboration with Lininger, former US District Attorney Jim Santelle, who closely investigated the 2012 Sikh Temple violence, and Sikh Temple official Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal.
Lininger said they had to search through all of their book sellers and even connect with sellers and friends of Dhaliwal in India to put together the collection.
“Dr. Dhaliwal gave us the names of some publishers, but they sell everything in rupees, so they wouldn’t take our credit card and they wouldn’t ship to us either, so it was a challenge,” Lininger said. “Fortunately, Dr. Dhaliwal was able to connect with some of his friends in India, and they bought the books from us, then shipped them to him and he brought them to us.”
Dhaliwal did not attend the opening because of the loss of his wife, Amrit Kaur Dhaliwal, who died earlier this week. She also helped curate the collection.
“How fitting and how fitting in reflection of the Dhaliwal family that we find ourselves for this reason in a library, among the book shelves and in the place where we expand our minds,” Santelle said. “The very books, bindings and pages that tell the stories of our lives are timeless, now open to all of us, with library cards, right here in Oak Creek.”
Milwaukee County residents can check out books from the Sikh Collection at the Oak Creek Public Library, and others can visit the collection at the library at 8040 S 6th St., Oak Creek.