A Navajo Nation librarian was given top honors recently for his contributions to literacy on the 27,000-square-mile reservation.

Irving Nelson, who serves as library program supervisor of the Navajo Nation, was selected from a pool of more than 500 librarians worldwide for the title of Librarian of the Year for 2010.

Reader to Reader, a nonprofit organization based at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., honored Nelson for his more than three decades of advocating for literacy on the reservation.

"Irving Nelson is an extraordinary individual," said David Mazor, executive director of Reader to Reader. "His dedication to his library and the citizens that use it is unsurpassed."

Nelson began his career driving a bookmobile on the reservation's rural roads. He also is credited with building an American Indian collection that includes 11,000 books, oral history tapes and land-claim records dating to 1675.

Nelson works from the Nation's Window Rock, Ariz., capital, where he oversees more than 76,000 books.

Many of the Nation's books have come from donations, Nelson said. During his tenure as a librarian, he has received and cataloged tens of thousands of titles.

"It's great," he said of his job. "I've traveled a lot to pick up books for the libraries."

Nelson made headlines in November after Reader to Reader collected 70 tons of books, totaling about 10,000 titles, for the Nation. Nelson flew to Massachusetts and drove a loaded rental van packed with the books back to Window Rock.


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The 2,300-mile journey came after two Amherst College students and one professor spent time on the Navajo Nation. Seeing the empty shelves in the library, the trio decided to tap into the Reader to Reader organization and fill in the gaps.

Mazor, a professor of Tai Chi, Quigong meditation and exercise, founded the nonprofit in 2002 to help provide books to schools that needed them. His goal is to stock Navajo Nation libraries with 100,000 books and 100 computers.

Nelson plans to make a second cross-country trip sometime this summer to collect an additional 10,000 books.

"These books, a lot of them we deliver to chapter houses, to detention centers, to smaller libraries across the reservation," he said. "Everyone benefits."

Nelson received a plaque honoring his status as 2010 Librarian of the Year.

Alysa Landry: alandry@daily-times.com