SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
For more than a decade, Elayne Silversmith has been the face behind the library at Fort Lewis College’s Center for Southwest Studies.
As the head librarian at the Robert Delaney Southwest Research Library, Silversmith has organized, maintained and grown the library’s collection of more than 18,000 books and 200 periodical titles.
Now, after 16 years at the college, she is moving on to become the branch librarian at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
On Saturday, she attended her last FLC graduation.
Just as Silversmith has played a role in shaping the college, FLC also has shaped her life.
She grew up on the Navajo Reservation near Shiprock, N.M., where her family raised sheep and grew alfalfa, corn, squash and melons on their farm. She visited Fort Lewis as a child when her father took classes there as a part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs education program.
After graduating from a parochial boarding school, she started college but dropped out after a year and a half. After a few years’ hiatus, she ended up at FLC and graduated in 1987 with a degree in Southwest studies.
Her work among books began as a student assistant at the college’s library. After graduation, she took a job at Durango Public Library and later worked at the University of New Mexico’s Native American studies library.
A few years later, she came back to Durango as a librarian at FLC’s Reed Library. She became the head librarian for Center for Southwest Studies when it moved to its newly constructed building in 2001.
She always has enjoyed the company of books, sometimes even more than people, Silversmith said. She sees a unique value in saving small scraps of history.
Despite devoting much of her career to the Delaney Library, Silversmith is uncertain about what role the library, and Center for Southwest Studies, will fill in the future.
The college recently eliminated the Southwest studies major, cutting off the center’s direct tie to curriculum. She hopes the center’s archives can be used by other departments such as environmental studies to research uranium mining in the area or past water-use conflicts. She also hopes the Southwest studies major someday will be redesigned and revived.
“There is no way we can ignore the magnitude of the collections here,” she said.
Beyond books, Silversmith has worked with diverse Native American groups on campus and is a strong advocate for improving Native American recruitment and retention at the college.
She served as chairwoman of the advisory committee for the newly formed Native American and indigenous studies major and was a member on the college’s intercultural committee.
Sometimes it was challenging to be a native woman at the college, she said. FLC still has work to do to truly live up to its mission in regards to native people, she said.
Silversmith’s institutional knowledge and her connections to Native American groups and programs on campus will be hard to replicate, said Nik Kendziorski, the center’s archives manager.
In every job she did, Silversmith was excellent at building consensus, said Richard Wheelock, a professor of Native American and indigenous studies who also will be leaving the college this year.
When she advised the NAIS major, she was “great at marshalling the forces and trying to bring together diverse viewpoints,” said Wheelock, who first met Silversmith when she was a student at FLC.
“I’m not surprised the national museum would recognize the kind of work she has done and see that as crucial to their development,” he said. “She is going to be a real player over there.”