Alumna Lorena Mata Reaches Out to Spanish-Speaking Community

Community Profile

Just two years after earning her MLIS in 2002, alumna Lorena Mata was named one of Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers, recognizing her efforts to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community.

Mata urges pages and clerks to consider librarianship as a career, just as she was encouraged to pursue her MLIS while working as a page at San Jose Public Library (SJPL). With an undergraduate degree in psychology, Mata was unsure about which direction to head with her career. With encouragement from several librarians at SJPL, “The idea of a career in librarianship really grew on me,” said Mata, “especially when I realized that the fact I speak another language is so beneficial to the community.”

“There’s such a need for bilingual and bicultural librarians,” she said, recalling how patrons would often ask her if she spoke Spanish and then respond with obvious relief when she said yes. “Sometimes patrons are so embarrassed to even bother you, but it’s no bother at all – it’s my job.”

Mara now urges paraprofessionals to pursue an MLIS degree. She chats about opportunities with co-workers, and she is involved with Bibliotecas Para La Gente (BPLG), the Northern California chapter of REFORMA, a national association that promotes library and information services to Latinos and Spanish speakers.

Mata became involved with BPLG early in her San José State University School of Information studies, and by her final year in graduate school, she was serving as the chapter’s president. The organization’s initiatives include hosting a local book fair, where libraries can buy Spanish-language books from vendors without the pricey trip to the Guadalajara International Book Fair. This year, BPLG also sponsored storytellers and cultural performance groups at local libraries to commemorate Day of the Child and Cinco de Mayo. “Many libraries can’t afford to put on such programs, so Bibliotecas is there to assist for the benefit of the community,” she said.

Through BPLG, Mata and her colleagues started conducting workshops to help librarians – including those who don’t speak Spanish – run a bilingual story time. She and her colleagues repeated the presentation at annual conferences sponsored by the California Library Association and the American Library Association.

Mata still works as a pool librarian at SJPL and remains active in BPLG as treasurer.
Last year, she changed jobs, and is now a reference librarian at Evergreen Valley College, a community college in San Jose. Mata approaches her job at Evergreen with similar gusto, trying to find new ways to make bibliographic instruction compelling for students or to market the library’s services to faculty members.

“Maybe I get too excited about research,” Mata admits. “But when students see how much I enjoy what I do and can explain things in such a way that doesn’t demean them, it has an impact.”