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Salt River Tribal Librarian Leigh Thomas (seated at left) receives the Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award, beside her Special Projects Administrator for the Education Division Chris McIntier, Assistant Director for Business Services for Education Dr. Billy Escue and Library Assistant Pat Donahower.

Tribal Librarian Leigh Thomas Honored with Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award

By Richie Corrales
Au-Authm Action News

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member and Tribal Librarian Leigh Thomas has received the Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award from the Arizona Library Association (AzLA). The award was presented at the annual Arizona Library Association Conference, which was held at the Westin La Paloma resort in Tucson at the end of November.

The award is presented to an active librarian who is a member of the AzLA. Criteria include significant accomplishments and leadership over the past 10 years in Arizona in promotion of libraries and library services, active support of AzLA, legislative activity and support, mentoring, professional publications, contributions to the future of librarianship and information science as a profession, raising the profile of work in libraries, and participation in projects relating to library service and to other libraries.

Thomas received several nominations for the award, including nominations from librarians and staff members from the Salt River Education Division. Thomas has been working for the Salt River Library for 28-plus years.

“This is the first time I won this [award]. It felt good and it was very surprising,” said Thomas. She recalled, “I got a call telling me that I had won the award, and [because I was] still unsure, I asked my co-worker Pat. [She] told me that they had all been planning this since late that summer.

“It makes [me] feel good because of what I have done here; I have tried to keep the library up, and I also go and reach out to other tribal libraries here in the state,” said Thomas.

Thomas works with the Gathering of Arizona Tribal Libraries, a special group within AzLA that tries to foster more support for tribal libraries in Arizona.

“I try to help everybody that I can. We try to help other librarians, and currently we are trying to help out Peach Springs, which lost their library in a fire,” she said. “Whatever old books we pull off the shelves I want to donate to them, if they are still in good condition and usable. We are going to pack up and help them get started.”

Thomas is looking at planning a book drive in the future as well because they are going to be opening soon.

“We just had a good time while at the conference in Tucson and I am very happy,” said Thomas.

Thomas will receive an engraved silver bowl donated by the Rosenzweig Family for her dedication.

“All of us in the Education Division are very proud of Leigh and all she has done for the SRPMIC Library,” said Chris McIntier of Salt River Education.

Compilation of Nomination Letters
Rosenzweig Distinguished
Service Award

“Leigh Thomas is a librarian for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Tribal Library. When she began working there 28 years ago, library materials were stored in the reception area; the library was dingy and dark; and it had five books to lend, with no patrons to lend to. Leigh looked past what the library was and saw what the library could become. Now, after much remodeling and perseverance, the library is bright, clean and boasts a collection of 11,000 books and 2,000 patrons. She also added audiobooks and historical books that are invaluable to her Community. She was probably the first to automate a tribal library as well by implementing an electronic inventory and checkout system.

“Her work didn’t stop there. She also prides herself on continued outreach. She brings puppet shows into her Community to promote literacy. Her characters, Polly Urethane and Ethel Chloride, are very popular and well received. She created a humorous book talk video to promote the library and get prospective patrons to sign up for library cards. Probably her greatest outreach accomplishment was co-founding the AzLA group, Arizona Tribal Libraries. This group has the ability to reach out to tribal libraries all over Arizona. Each year they have a conference to present ideas and share resources. Leigh has hosted the conference several times.

“She is a strong advocate of school libraries and libraries in general. She will donate advice, time and books to the Salt River High School and Salt River Elementary School libraries. She has also been known to donate rare and out-of-print books to her own library and other tribal libraries. She will go out of her way to help out other libraries and has partnered with many community services such as the S.T.E.P. Up Tutoring Program, Community Youth Homes and several others.

“Leigh is an asset to her library, her community and to the state of Arizona. She has worked tirelessly to promote libraries and to improve her library for her community. She is everything the Rosenzweig Award stands for, and we are honored to present her with the 2011 Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award.”

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