Learning and Working Through Illness with Valerie Tohom

Community Profile
Valerie Tohom

“There’s so many resources out there for students – don’t let your status as a student hold you back! A lot of people like that you’re a student because they know you have a desire to learn.” 

Valerie Tohom, MLIS expected ‘24
Los Angeles, CA

Throughout her life, Valerie Tohom has had to cope with a variety of chronic health conditions, including autoimmune conditions. Despite the additional challenges this brings, she can still pursue her interests and achieve her goals while managing her health. Unfortunately, she doesn’t see stories like hers on the shelves and wants representation of people with chronic conditions, and especially kids’ experiences, to improve and expand.

“There’s not a lot of books for representation of chronic illness, and I want to change that. Most of the books about health conditions are things you can actually see, but what about the things you can’t see? You don’t know what people are carrying with them, and I want to support them. I want to find memoirs of people living with chronic conditions, and not just from medical books. I want to read about their work, their life, and their families. Growing up, I don’t remember seeing books about kids managing their health conditions and embracing life. And I want to help kids understand disabilities and chronic conditions and see themselves represented.” – Valerie Tohom

Discovering LIS

Several factors influenced Valerie’s entry into the LIS field.

During her undergraduate program at Cal State LA, Valerie’s health worsened, which led her to reevaluate her career plans.

Around this time, she also took a children’s literature course with Dr. Sarah Minslow. Dr. Minslow ran an end-of-semester career workshop that introduced Valerie to a potential career in librarianship.

Valerie was drawn to librarianship because of its community focus and chose to redirect her career plans from the corporate world to the information sector.

Interestingly, her undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a minor in Creative Writing. MLIS programs are incredibly multidisciplinary, and students in the program tend to have various educational and work experiences. Early in her research, Valerie was advised by a working librarian that her business background would be beneficial in librarianship, especially when it came to working with people and working at the organizational level. If you’re unsure about your undergraduate experience helping you in LIS, think again!

SJSU laptop


When asked why she chose SJSU for her MLIS, Valerie stated multiple reasons: first and foremost, cost! 

Compared to other programs she was considering, the tuition at SJSU was much more manageable. 

Another positive determining factor for her was the asynchronous online format of SJSU’s MLIS program. Since Valerie already spends a lot of time at and commuting between home, work, and the doctor, being able to do school online around her own schedule allowed her to continue her education without compromising on her other important activities.

Although many students are hesitant about a 100% online program, it was not a concern for Valerie. She already had some experience with online learning when her undergraduate program went online during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it was even more reassuring that SJSU’s MLIS program was fully online since the course content and instructors would already be well-suited for the online format.

Expanding What it Means to Be a Student

Despite still being an MLIS student, Valerie has already accumulated impressive experience.

In addition to studying at SJSU, Valerie is a page at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), an American Library Association (ALA) Booklist reviewer, a volunteer at a school library, and a member of several committees, including the California Library Association (CLA) Youth Service Interest Group, CLA Membership Committee, and LAPL Mentorship Committee.

She is a CLA member and is currently participating in their Catalyst leadership development program. She is one of the few participants who doesn’t already have her MLIS.

Valerie wants to encourage other MLIS students to get involved in the LIS sector early.

“There’s so many resources out there for students – don’t let your status as a student hold you back! A lot of people like that you’re a student because they know you have a desire to learn.” - Valerie Tohom

At the same time, she advises that it’s important to recognize when you are overextending yourself and scale back accordingly.

“Don’t burn out! Health is of the utmost importance, including the mental and the physical. Time management really helps. Schedule in free time, self care time. You need that stuff to reset.” - Valerie Tohom

What’s Next?

After graduation, Valerie plans to work as a librarian. While she is open to various librarian roles, she is especially interested in working with youth in a public library or with students in an academic library. Both settings align with her interests in instruction and passion for life-long learning.

“You might be reading a book to kids, or teaching life skills to adults. Either way you’re giving them the tools they need so they can prosper.” - Valerie Tohom

Valerie feels that her time at SJSU has helped prepare her for seeking a librarian position.

INFO 260 A – Programming and Services for Children Ages 0-8 with Lisa Houde helped me a lot. The class structure made sure we learned actual technical skills. The final project was a full 12-month programming plan, including the budget, community partnerships, programs, schedule, calendars, and activity design. Now, when I go to job interviews, I can show that I can plan an entire year of programming.” - Valerie Tohom

Valerie is also interested in leadership and hopes to support all library workers in her work, including MLIS students and other non-librarian staff.

Check it Out!

Valerie just finished reading Kelly Yang’s Front Desk series, a children’s novel that follows Mia Tang as she grows up living and working in a motel with her immigrant parents. Although the books are for children, they cover important topics such as immigration, social justice, racism, injustice, and cultural communities.

Front Desk Book Series

“They’re such important topics. People think kids don’t think about this stuff, but they are and they have questions. These books are like a bridge to help talk about these things.” - Valerie Tohom