Walk into any library, and the world is revealed, from tall tales and vital truths to oral histories and picture books. It’s no wonder then that these magical repositories of imagination and knowledge also contain some of the coolest, most subversive, and most innovative people on the planet: librarians. 

To prove the point, Encounter Culture host Charlotte Jusinski bypasses the books and goes directly to the source. She chats with Eli Guinnee, New Mexico State Librarian, and the incomparable Jean Whitehorse, Outreach Librarian, Tribal Libraries Program in Crownpoint, NM, on the Navajo Nation. Eli provides background on the state library’s programs and initiatives while Jean educates listeners on everything else. That’s not hyperbole; Jean is an astonishing font of information, determination, and wisdom behind the circulation desk. 

The New Mexico State Library is more than “just” a repository for books. It’s a vital hub, offering career training, financial literacy, computer competency, and infrastructure advocacy programs. Jean’s approach to librarianship mirrors her approach to life––examine systems, identify the inequities, and take action. “There’s always another way,” she says, referencing the creative problem-solving spirit that her father passed down to her.

Eli is in awe of the changes Jean has fostered throughout her life and career. “You’ve got this whole lifetime of working towards justice and education and access and improvements over so many years,” he says, noting that her love for her community compels her to think outside the box. “Everyone’s unique. Every community is unique. Even within the Navajo Nation, different chapter houses are unique. You’re very one-on-one when you’re working with people. You address their particular needs, but [ ] you have this broad vision, too.”

Jean’s macro-micro sensibility has garnered her invitations to speak around the world. She’s even addressed The United Nations’ Permanent Committee on Indigenous Issues. But no matter how far afield she travels, Jean remains rooted in Navajo Nation. “I grew up in a hogan with a dirt floor. I’m the daughter of a Navajo Code Talker,” she says, pride mingling with a bit of impatience. There’s still so much she wants to accomplish. 

Here’s hoping we’ll find Jean behind the circulation desk for another 25 years.

Visit the New Mexico State Library to learn more about its programs and initiatives.  If you’re in Santa Fe, drop by the library at 209 Camino Carlos Rey for research and browsing. Don’t live in Santa Fe? Submit your questions to a librarian via the New Mexico State Library reference desk! All inquiries receive a response within two business days. 

You can view a trailer for Amá, the film featuring Jean Whitehorse’s story of forced sterilization, at dartmouthfilms.com/ama.

Visit https://newmexicoculture.org for info about our museums, historic sites, virtual tours and more.


Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.
Hosted by Charlotte Jusinski, Editor at El Palacio Magazine
Technical Director: Edwin R. Ruiz
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Executive Producer:  Daniel Zillmann
Show Notes: Lisa Widder
Associate Editor: Helen King
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava
Instagram: @newmexicanculture
For more, visit podcast.nmculture.org.

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