Footsteps to the future

Case study


Module 3: Sustaining your library association


Topic 2: Sustainable Staffing


Strategies for sustaining a library association should be viewed as long-term and ongoing, so that the association does not suddenly find itself without office bearers who will lead and guide the association. This case study introduces a young Native American librarian, Janice Kowemy, whose career provides ample evidence of the role that library associations can play to develop the next generation of library professionals, who in turn contribute to the sustainability of the associations themselves.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. What role can a library association play to support its members?
  2. What is the value of succession planning for a library association?
  3. What are the benefits of developing community networks?
  4. What are the benefits of being a member of a library association?


In recent years there has been a growing interest in ethnic library associations, which cross many professional and geographic boundaries. In the United States, the members of these associations are united by “an interest in professional opportunities for minority librarians, fostering access to unbiased ethnic information and recruitment of minority library services into a multicultural future” (Echavarria & Wertheimer, 1997, p.373-4). During the 1970s and early 1980s, a number of new organisations were established, including the American Library Association (ALA) Black Caucus, REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library Services to the Spanish Speaking), the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) and the American Indian Library Association (AILA). AILA became an affiliate of the ALA in 1985. The goals of the AILA are to promote the establishment and maintenance of Indian libraries, to develop the criteria and standards for Indian libraries and to coordinate professional development activities for the staff of the library services. Interests extend into the area of archival services and Indian information networks, facilitating the exchange of information among Indian tribes and the major institutions maintaining Indian archives. A major advocacy role is to educate legislators, public officials, and the general public about the library/information needs of Indians communities. Fundraising and the development of grant submissions to ensure a strong future for Indian library services is very important. A key focus has been on the recruitment of American Indian librarians into the profession.

While AILA operates as a national association, there are also opportunities for advocacy and networking at the local level through State-based library associations. The goals of the New Mexico Library Association (NMLA) are to encourage “the support and promotion of libraries and the development of library personnel through education and the exchange of ideas to enrich the lives of all New Mexicans” ( The business of the NMLA is managed through a number of committees and special interest groups (SIGs). The Native American Libraries SIG (NAL-SIG) plays a valuable role in supporting the development of library services to Native Americans through libraries both on and off the reservations.

There are currently 12 Full Public Tribal Libraries and 4 Developing Public Tribal Libraries in New Mexico. The New Mexico State Library runs a Tribal Libraries Program (TLP) which promotes and supports information access in tribal communities with an emphasis on current technology and tribal library development. A TLP coordinator provides consulting services for tribal librarians on a wide range of topics including technology, policies and planning, and library best practices as well as training for tribal library staff and community members ( The TLP position is currently frozen due to budget cuts, but the NMLA is working with the Indian Affairs Department to have to position filled again.


Recruitment and succession planning are critical issues for library associations. They need to identify people who will be eager and able to take on responsibilities in the future, to provide opportunities for skills development and learning, as well to celebrate the achievement of those people who are making a major contribution to the profession and to the association.

Janice Kowemy is from the Pueblo of Laguna in northwest-central New Mexico. The population of the Laguna Tribe is around 7,000. As a schoolgirl, Janice was a regular visitor at the Laguna Public Library. In 2000, Laguna Public Library received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Native American Access to Technology Program, which enabled IT equipment to be installed in the Library. Janice was employed over the summer vacation to add records to the electronic catalogue, teach the community how to use the computers, and plan the summer reading program. The then librarian, Elizabeth (Liz) Wacondo, took her under her wing and encouraged her to consider a career in libraries. Janice accompanied Liz to her first library association meeting with NAL-SIG and she quickly became aware of the value of the collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking that resulted from the meetings. She claims “They got me really early!”

In 2002 Janice had the opportunity to attend her first ALA Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. At the conference, she was introduced to Loriene Roy, Professor of Information Science at the University of Texas, Austin. A Native American herself, Professor Roy was elected the ALA’s first indigenous President for the 2007-2008 term. The University of Texas and the American Indian Library Association successfully applied for funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to establish the scholarship program, Honoring Generations: Developing the Next Generation of Librarians Specializing in Library Services for Indigenous Communities. This program focuses on four priorities: recruitment to the profession, professional education, mentoring and service learning. Janice, in the meantime, completed her undergraduate degree in Marketing and spent a year working in tourism. She was invited to apply for an Honoring Generations scholarship and subsequently moved to Austin to complete her MLS at the University of Texas, graduating in December 2007. In January 2008, she stepped into her mentor’s shoes as Director of the Laguna Public Library. Sadly, Liz Wacondo died in late 2007.

Through her connections with library associations, Janice was fortunate to receive personal and professional support which enabled her to establish a successful career as a tribal librarian. She is currently participating in a joint project of the AILA and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, Talk Story, which supports family and cultural literacy in the Laguna community. Her work takes her beyond the immediate context of Laguna to serve as Chair of the Native American Libraries SIG (NAL-SIG) of the NMLA, which focuses on the needs of the Tribal Libraries Program of the New Mexico State Library, particularly in terms of the legislative process to achieve improved funding for tribal libraries. She is also actively involved in the Institute of Pueblo Indian Studies (IPLS) which plays an archival role for the documents and artefacts of the pueblos in New Mexico and develops research policies and protocols for access to the resources that reflect the cultural sensitivities of the tribes. Janice’s influence is also felt internationally: in 2007 she was a presenter at the 5th International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum (IIIF) in Brisbane, Australia, and was a member of the planning committee for the 6th IIIF held in New Zealand. In 2010, Janice received the NMLA Library Leadership Award to recognise her contribution to libraries and her support and encouragement for other librarians; Library Journal has also named her a ‘Mover and Shaker 2010’.


Succession planning, to ensure leadership continuity within a library association, needs to be seen as a long-term, ongoing process. Janice Kowemy personifies this process: her potential was recognised early on and with careful mentoring and professional encouragement, she has been able to make her mark within and beyond tribal library services. These days she is acknowledged for the leadership roles she plays in the sector regionally, as President of the NAL-SIG of the NMLA, and serving on national committees and coordinating outreach initiatives with the AILA and ALA. This work will undoubtedly inspire others to follow in her footsteps.


  1. What strategies for succession planning can you identify in this case study?
  2. How do you think Janice Kowemy has been able to benefit from the work done by the different library associations?
  3. Can you identify some of the ways that Janice Kowemy has made her own professional contribution to the different library associations?
  4. Does your library association have any strategies in place to recognise future board or committee members?
  5. What benefits do you believe might flow from identifying and supporting future leadership candidates?
  6. In your association, can you identify areas of membership that might benefit from more strategic leadership measures? Try to list them, then outline some measures you would like to see incorporated in the strategic plan.
  7. Has this case study changed your view of ‘succession planning’?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: United States (US)
Region: North America
Agency: American Indian Library Association (AILA)
New Mexico Library Association (NMLA)
American Library Association (ALA)
Topic: Succession planning
Keywords: sustainability, succession planning, mentoring, awards, tribal libraries


Ecahavarria, T. & Wertheimer, A.B. (1997). Surveying the role of ethnic-American library associations. Library Trends, 46(2), 383-391.

Kowemy, J. (2010). Beyond legacy. Library Journal, 135(5), 24.

Kowemy, J. (personal communication, June 8, 2010 and June 11, 2010).

Associations, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012