Janice Kowemy is only the second Laguna tribal community librarian in tribal history. She ably walks in the footsteps of the late Liz Wacondo, who had mentored her since Kowemy worked at Laguna Public Library in high school. It was then she decided to become a librarian, and Wacondo vowed not to retire until Kowemy could take over.
Another champion—Loriene Roy, SILS professor at the University of Texas (UT), former American Library Association (ALA) president, and a Native American librarian activist—also stepped in. With Roy’s help, Kowemy was able to attend UT’s Honoring Generations scholarship program, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which aims to prepare the next generation of tribal librarians. Roy recounts that Wacondo, then in her 80s, kept in contact with Kowemy until she was about to graduate from library school. Wacondo died just weeks before Kowemy could succeed her.
Appointed director one month after finishing library school, Kowemy has fulfilled high expectations. She came into the job interview prepared with a “portfolio of products,” says Roy. Kowemy had designed a library web site, created a calendar of programs, drafted library policies, and written new job descriptions that eventually became a statewide model. On the job during the past two years, she’s accomplished what any dynamicdirector would do: updated and expanded the collection, forged community partnerships, and promoted services.
But Kowemy has also made her mark beyond her community with her involvement in the Institute of Pueblo Indian Studies (IPIS), which is governed by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. IPIS houses documents, archives, and artifacts for the pueblos. Her committee is working on making these materials accessible through the tribal libraries, also ensuring that research policies and protocols are in effect “that reflect cultural sensitivity for tribes.”
This grass-roots advocacy for tribal libraries and for tribal people has also informed Kowemy’s leadership role in the Native American Libraries Special Interest Group of the New Mexico Library Association. She coordinates fundraising events and is drafting a statewide resolution calling for the restoration of tribal library support. This work is especially important, as the position of the first statewide tribal library consultant has recently been eliminated.
Kowemy attended her first ALA conference in 2002 as an undergraduate. Since then, she’s made her mark as a presenter at conferences worldwide. More recently, she was a member of the planning committee for the 2009 International Indigenous Librarians Forum held in New Zealand, taking the legacy ever outward into the international library community.