“I think what I really enjoy [about SJSU] is the opportunity to get a feel for the students in a way that keeps me motivated, engaged and current with everything that’s happening now. The students all bring a fresh perspective and dynamic approach to the field.”
Santa Monica, California
Patricia Wong’s interest in the LIS field began with her high school librarian, Sister Margaret Therese, at her all-girls private school. “She did everything,” says Wong, “for us young women who frequented the library.” Under Margaret Therese’s care, the library became a haven and a place where Wong and other girls could lose themselves in books and information. Having this exceptional librarian as a role model in her formative years helped Wong discover her affinity not only for the handling and sharing of information to those who need it, but also for the many librarians who go the extra mile for their community and their constituents. This led her to pursue an MLIS, employment as a public librarian and eventually to teaching at the iSchool.
In a previous community interview, Wong discussed with us, among many other things, her successful efforts in grant writing for her community members in Yolo County, where she served as library director for almost a decade. Now, she’s moving into a new role as director of library services at the Santa Monica Public Library, where she can benefit a whole new community with her tactful skills and experience. Says Wong, “I’ve worked in cities before, so I have a nice range of city and county experience, which I think is good for both me and my constituents,” which include the community-at-large and the employees with whom she works.
Making the World a Better Place: Locally, Nationally and Globally
On her basic interest in the LIS field, Wong says simply, “I see it all as a way of making the world a better place.” Wong has a deep understanding of the fact that by connecting users to the information that fits their needs, they will re-enter the world more able-minded and prepared for what it has to both offer and throw at them. Her new executive role in Santa Monica will continue this effort. Says Wong, “It’s a really great opportunity to do some work with a team and a library that has done a lot of proactive work with the community.” Although the community is rather small at 96,000 people, there are a plethora of services delivered. “The expectation of that community is very high,” says Wong, “so the challenge will be how to bring some fresh vision and leadership while also working collaboratively with the staff to come up with some programming and services that continue to meet demands.” She continues, “Like many urban environments, there’s a strong dichotomy between the haves and have-nots, with a significant homeless population to serve.” This is a challenge Wong believes library professionals are somewhat uniquely qualified to face.
Wong's new position as executive board member in the American Library Association will also allow her to affect change in both the LIS field and communities serve throughout the country, just on a slightly different scale. “One of the great things about the ALA,” Wong enthuses, “is that you get a bigger and broader sense of the sheer impact of librarianship both as a field and as a true vocation.” She goes on to espouse the virtues of many strong, democratic information professional organizations, noting that ALA is only different because of its size, reach, and scope as the largest in the world. “So,” she says, “the impact there can be as riddled with bureaucracy as any organization but also have truly lasting beneficial impact. We have a lot more concerted efforts on a national and global level.” The widespread topics of discussion the ALA engages in also give Wong opportunity to serve and affect change. Says Wong, “We’ll talk about anything from whether an executive director has to have an MLIS as a minimum requirement all the way to how open-carry gun laws might affect our institutions.” Wong, pictured to the right speaking at the ALA 2017 Midwinter Conference's MLK Jr. Day Sunrise Celebration, sees her work with ALA as a near pinnacle of democracy and social justice.
The iSchool Learning Environment Creates Mutually Rewarding Experiences
Wong has taught dozens of courses in the School of Information, including Management of Youth Services, Grant Writing, Professional Socialization and Management of Childrens’ Services. “I think what I really enjoy [about the iSchool],” Wong says, “is the opportunity to get a feel for the students in a way that keeps me motivated, engaged and current with everything that’s happening now.” The eclectic students, she says, all bring a fresh perspective and dynamic approach to the field. “In many ways,” Wong says, “I’m learning just as much about their often-unique approach to their work as they are about the LIS field. I’m able to meet their educational needs, but they’re also able to influence me as a practitioner every day. It’s a mutually rewarding experience.”
For those students looking for careers of their own in the LIS field, Wong has plenty of advice to share. “You should always try to go after something that’s a little different than what you’re used to,” she says. Getting out of one’s comfort zone, doing research, moving if the opportunity is viable and taking risks are the main tenets of Wong’s career search tips. “If you can,” Wong says, “visit where you’d like to work. Don’t box yourself in with one type of library. It used to be difficult to switch between academic and public, but that’s not so much the case anymore. Even if you don’t meet the minimum qualifications, take that risk and apply. You never know.” Most of all, though, Wong heavily suggests keeping up a current CV as a chronicle of one’s career. “Again,” she says, “you never know.”
As for Wong’s professional future, she has few plans beyond Santa Monica. She still has some dreams, though. “One of my ideal jobs,” she laughs, “is in Hawaii. Half of my family came from the San Francisco area, where I was born and raised, while the other came from Hawaii. Eventually, I think I would like to relocate there, perhaps as state librarian. That’s something of an ideal job for me.” But for now, Wong is more than content to serve her communities and continue teaching right here at the iSchool.