Student Elviria Aquino Pursues MLIS to Support Tribal Heritage Preservation

Community Profile

Student Elviria Aquino enrolled in San José State University School of Information’s MLIS program in spring 2011 to learn how to help her community develop and manage their tribal heritage center.

Aquino is on the planning and development committee for the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Heritage Center, which will eventually be a place to preserve important tribal documents, records, and artifacts that are now stored in museums all around the country.

Located 25 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the reservation of Ohkay Owingeh has a population of about 5,000. The name means “the place that is strong.” Aquino moved back to the pueblo after attending high school in Ohio and spending several years working and raising her four children. “I was fortunate to get an education and come back with some skills that may be useful to my tribe,” Aquino said.

Aquino accepted a job as the Coordinator for the Ohkay Owingeh Department of Education, where she was put in charge of re-establishing the old tribal library as a viable community organization.

“I realized if I was going to help to put this library together, I needed to learn more about libraries,” she said. Inspired by her son’s college plans and by the support of her family and co-workers, Aquino enrolled at Northern New Mexico College and earned associate degrees in library technology and teaching. She was also able to build connections at her college and at other universities to help reduce cultural barriers and to support higher education for American Indian students, a major focus of her job.

Aquino’s commitment and knowledge rallied community support, and she helped the library obtain three grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The library also received computers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The library’s thriving now,” said Aquino. “It’s a beautiful place with wonderful programs for the community, and it’s used constantly.”

After getting the library up and running, Aquino decided to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts and earned a bachelor’s degree in museum studies. “I loved studying and didn’t want to stop,” she said. Aquino also had the opportunity to complete a nine-week internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Library in Washington D.C. as part of her program.

When she graduated in May 2010, Aquino was already thinking about earning a master’s degree but was debating between museum studies and library and information science.

“I looked into different programs and asked for advice, and one day I got an email about the Circle of Learning opportunity at the iSchool,” she said. Circle of Learning is a partnership between the iSchool and the American Indian Library Association (AILA). The program provides financial assistance and other support to American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to earn an MLIS degree. It is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Aquino currently works full-time as a Library Technician at the New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library while taking MLIS classes. She also holds volunteer positions and provides support to her community library whenever she’s needed.

Aquino plans to focus on archives and preservation electives at the iSchool and hopes to graduate in 2013. “I try to learn from everything that I’m doing,” said Aquino. “The whole purpose of my education is to provide what my community needs, and I just keep pushing forward.”