iSchool Lecturer Patty Wong Transforms Communities, One Grant at a Time

Community Profile

Distinguished San José State University School of Information faculty member Patty Wong engages students and builds community through grant writing. 

Longtime iSchool lecturer Patty Wong is a model for achieving success through community outreach. County librarian and chief archivist for Yolo County, California, deeply involved in several LIS organizations, a professional who has been awarded a multitude of honors and awards—Wong shares the benefit of her knowledge and experiences with iSchool students. Tireless, engaged, and involved: Wong is committed to her work and has no plans to slow down.

Trial by Children’s Librarian Fire
With a University of California, Berkeley, MLIS, Wong began library life as a children’s librarian in Oakland, at the time, a one-person-many-libraries role. Wong criss-crossed six different branch libraries to develop their children’s programming, in addition to school visits for 66 elementary schools, and developed partnerships with churches and other community organizations that served families. 

“It was exciting!” Wong enthuses. “And it was inspirational. Most of my assignments were in the heart of East Oakland—there were a lot of young people and families who didn’t have a whole lot, so they were appreciative, and I got a good taste of youth development and what even just one person can do to make a difference.”

Word of Wong’s work eventually reached the Oakland Tribune, which sent a reporter to interview her about her job. Having no time to spare, Wong took him along on a typical day traversing the city. He couldn’t believe how much one person was doing, and particularly how positively the predominantly African American community was responding to Asian American Wong, and vise versa. But to Wong, it was all natural, just what was needed to affect lives and get her job done.

“It didn’t matter what background I was,” Wong says, “I was there for these children. What mattered the most was that people were able to touch someone else.” 

From Grade School to Grad School
When she joined the iSchool in 2006, Wong taught management of children’s and young adult services as well as professional socialization—how to make the most of your professional relationships and opportunities. And then she started teaching grant writing.

“I’d written many grants before I started teaching,” Wong explains, “but the first was pivotal in that I had a great mentor in Rhonda Rios Kravitz, one of the consultants for California State Library.” Wong worked on the grant for Partnerships for Change, an initiative for California libraries to “respond to the ethnic and cultural diversity in their communities” by providing library programs and services with a nod toward accommodating existing community, while being sensitive and inclusive of new groups moving into the neighborhood. “My advice was to make sure everyone in the community felt they had a voice and that they were being heard.”

Wong (pictured, right, at library Staff Day) tackled the grant’s 300-page needs assessment, using examples from her interaction with South Berkeley, where the predominantly African American community welcomed other ethnic groups into the fold. Her favorite example was the Malcolm X Elementary School responding to its diverse population by serving students bento, traditional Japanese-styled meals, for lunch.

The end result was a five-year, half-million-dollar grant.

It Takes a Community to Write a Grant
All of Wong’s experiences in the LIS field and outreach through a host of professional organizations gave her a rich perspective to bring to the grant-writing process.

“As librarians, some of the things we bring innately are really good research skills,” says Wong. “When I wrote [my first] grant we didn’t have agencies compiling statistics; back then I had to rely on data we received locally.” Wong made it her personal mission to make friends and develop community partnerships, always with the idea that learning from the successful operations of others is instrumental to the learning process, one of the key points she want to bring to everyone else. “I got a lot of work done through my relationships,” she says. “Grant writing is not a lot of book learning, but being in the field and picking up things along the way, involving and engaging as many community members as possible.”

As example: in addition to her work in youth services, teaching and community grant writing, Wong received the 2015 Chinese American Librarian Association (CALA) Distinguished Service Award in honor of “outstanding leadership, distinguished service and achievement in our field,” won an American Library Association (ALA) Equality Award, and is currently running for the position of ALA treasurer. Upon hearing of her CALA award, Derek Wolfgram, director of the Redwood City [California] Public Library, warmly congratulated Wong as “one of my library idols.” He added that “her incredible work for the people of Yolo County, the students at SJSU, the members of ALA and CLA [the California Library Association], members of underrepresented communities everywhere, and anyone remotely connected to California libraries cannot be overstated.”

The Art of Grant Writing
Teaching gives Wong a way to share what she’s learned with others: her students and the clients they work with each semester. Her INFO 282: Grant Writing course has iSchool LIS professionals-in-training write live grants for clients happy to accept student assistance to secure funding for their projects. And the partnership results in a fairly high success rate: students like Kevin Enns-Rempel, library director at Fresno Pacific University, have won library grants on their first try.

“One of the things to remember for students is they have as much rich experience as anyone else,” Wong stresses. “Students have as much to give as to receive, and people are genuinely interested in what that looks like, and they will find that professional colleagues will welcome them with open arms.”

Wong encourages grant writers to work with organizations they’re close to, that they already have an interest in. “I ask people to think about their local community first, because if you’re living in that community you know about it, and you can give back more directly. That passionate interest is really critical, because that’s how you write persuasively, because you care about it.” And that leads to both sides, students and the organizations they work with, learning from each other. “Learning from the successful operations of others has always been a big learning moment for me, and one of the things I want to bring to everyone else,” she explains.

“I should call it community-engaged grant writing,” Wong says. “That’s the critical difference between how I teach grant writing and how others do it. I really do want to have a positive impact on a whole community.”