The Person Behind The Posts: Meet iSchool Social Media Coordinator Sonia Belasco
“These different apps and social media channels evolve, but I think their importance is often underestimated. The truth is that social media is how most people are getting most of their information. And particularly in an online program, where you don’t have that kind of face-to-face interaction as much as you would if you were in person, it’s an opportunity to build community between people and also to connect them to resources and information.”
Sonia Belasco, ‘22 MLIS
If you’ve scrolled past a post, whether it is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (AKA “X”), or LinkedIn from the iSchool in the last five months, chances are you have seen Sonia Belasco’s work. Sonia’s official title is Social Media and UX Coordinator, but at least part of that job involves posting funny library school memes.
Sonia is not new to the iSchool world, having finished her own Master’s of Library and Information Science (MLIS) at SJSU in 2022. And that was only her most recent graduate program after obtaining her Masters in Social Work and her MFA in Creative Writing.
“I actually think of the work that I’m trying to do now as existing at the intersection of all of my work experience and education,” says Sonia. “There’s the psychology and understanding people part of social work and the information science/tech piece of Library School. And then there’s a lot of writing involved in all of them. And a lot of creativity, too. So I actually think that where I’m at right now is a logical progression, but I’ve definitely done a lot of different things — there’s no question.”
MFA’s and MSW’s
Sonia started her college career at the University of Maryland, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English before applying to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Sonia knows that MFA programs are not for everyone – they can be expensive without funding and do not inherently lead to job opportunities or guaranteed publishing success. For Sonia, at least, she enjoyed herself and her ability to work on two novels, including her Young Adult novel, Speak of Me As I Am.
“The fall after I graduated from the program, I got an agent. I actually sold the book twice, but it was eventually published through Penguin Random House in 2017. I’ve self-published three books since then, but it’s very hard to get mainstream published–and it’s very hard to make a living even when you’re published.”
After working in nonprofits and freelance editing to support herself, Sonia decided to pursue her MSW at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, with the hope of better social work opportunities that would pay a more livable wage. She would then go on to work as a therapist and educator until the pandemic hit and she felt she wanted to shift gears.
Sonia has always loved libraries, ever since she grew up frequenting her local library in Washington, D.C.. This is ultimately what drew her to the iSchool and librarianship, which she saw as an extension of her career path so far.
“All of my work, wherever I’ve been working, has always been around issues of accessibility and accessibility to resources and information. That’s a lot of what social work is. It’s a lot of what education is. And so I think that’s how I ended up deciding to go to library school.”
And naturally, she chose the iSchool at San José State University.
Understanding User Experience
The iSchool introduced Sonia to UX as the way in which people use systems and engage with technology.
“I became interested in it because I saw UX as another area related to accessibility — the more user-friendly that we make websites or databases or search functions or apps, the easier it is for people to get the information and the resources they need.”
Sonia took some coursework during her time at the iSchool that taught her UX principles and processes that captured her interest.
“I just see it as being a really big part of what’s going to happen in the future to the field of information science, and it’s going to affect everything — because the more we are reliant on technology, the more that we need to figure out ways to make it so that people can actually use that technology.”
Sonia jokes that she should not put down social media apps given her current job, but has found that a lot of them are not especially user-friendly or intuitive.
“We all know when we’re using some kind of app like Twitter (X) or Facebook or Instagram, and then they suddenly just change — they reconfigure things and it’s not always for the better. I see the need in the future for more people who understand tech but also understand how people think, and can forge connections between the two.”
User experience impacts all types of libraries, including public spaces where online catalogs are not always especially clear or easy to use for the less technically savvy users and older patrons.
“There’s an option to have a real impact when you are able to redesign the kinds of systems and programs people use every day.”
On the Apps and Online
Growing up as part of the “Oregon Trail Generation,” the last generation to remember what it was like to not have the social internet and then to have it, Sonia watched the evolution of social media from its infancy. She soon found herself assisting with the Facebook account at her first job out of college, which would lead to more positions that would ask her to run their company socials, too.
“This job that I have now is the first time where I’ve had social media be one of the main focuses of what I do,” she said. “These different apps and social media channels evolve, but I think their importance is often underestimated. The truth is that social media is how most people are getting most of their information. And particularly in an online program, where you don’t have that kind of face-to-face interaction as much as you would if you were in person, it’s an opportunity to build community between people and also to connect them to resources and information.”
The shift to move more programs and jobs online is also something Sonia’s noticed in other professions, which she stated is not about the novelty of being able to do something remotely, it is about access.
“A lot of people are able to do an online program who wouldn’t be able to do it in person because of location, or because they’re working and they need something asynchronous, or because they have disabilities and it’s just easier for them to do it online. I see all these things as advantages of having that kind of accessible digital space.”
In her own search for nontraditional and remote library roles, she found her current position, which allows her to work from home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sonia feels that having been a recent iSchool student allows her to bring her experience to the table when thinking about how to grab the attention of a library school student who’s scrolling online, as well as ways to improve student user experience.
Social Media Strategy
Sonia is the first dedicated social media coordinator the iSchool has ever had, which has allowed her a fair amount of freedom in creating the position. She has enjoyed it so far, but the strategy side is harder than it looks.
“It’s always tricky with social media,” Sonia said. “The challenge is: How do we get people’s attention when they have so much thrown at them all the time? It’s hard. People are at capacity. I’d like to find creative ways to get people engaged and talking to each other, and connecting with people that they might not otherwise connect with, and promote things to other people, so people know about what’s happening in the program and what students and alumni are doing in the field.”
Sonia’s role also involves working with a student assistant, which allows her to try out various ideas to gather engagement on different platforms. Together, they work to promote any student group posts and library news/stories of interest on Twitter (X), Facebook, and Instagram.
“There are endless options,” Sonia says. “It takes a lot more time than people think to put good content together. It’s not just writing a tweet – [though] there’s a considerable amount of effort that goes into that, too. When you’re doing social media for an organization or for a school or company, you have to think about how to represent the organization in the best possible way, how to showcase its diversity, and how to understand your audience and what interests them.”
Looking Towards the Future
Sonia says her goals with the iSchool are shaped by the feedback she gets from their web users and social media followers, based largely on engagement and the responses to any surveys she creates.
“My overarching goal is to make social media useful to the students and alumni, as well as faculty and prospective students. I’m constantly collecting data on what the best way is to do that, but that’s what I’m hoping for – to get people engaged and involved and connected with each other in the program.”
When asked about what she hopes to do in the future, Sonia references the meme: “What is my dream job? I don’t dream of labor.”
“I’m a little cynical about the idea of a ‘dream job,” Sonia admits. “But in terms of my goals in the future, I’m very interested in being on the design side of search algorithms because I think that’s one of the things that shapes so much of the way that people engage with information and information systems. People don’t often think about the ways that Google, for example, affects what information we have access to.”
You can check out some of Sonia’s books on her website, and stay tuned for anything she writes in the future. In the meantime, you can also find Sonia online, and learn about what the iSchool is up to on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter (X).
Check This Out!
As a lifelong learner, Sonia recommends the following reads for curious minds: The Library Book by Susan Orlean (which helped convince Sonia to go to library school), Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble (for more on search engine bias), and Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory (an anthology on diversity politics in the library space).
As a social media coordinator, Sonia recommends the LA Public Library (on Twitter and Instagram) for educational and interesting videos and the National Park Service (also on Twitter or Instagram) for funny and practical information about our nation’s parks.