How Our Latinx and Spanish-Speaking Communities Continue to Positively Impact Libraries Today
Published: November 18, 2022 by Eori Tokunaga
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the San José State University iSchool presented an EDI symposium on October 11th, 2022, titled “Unifying the Information Community,” featuring keynote speaker REFORMA 2022-2023 National President Dr. Romelia Salinas; David Lopez, Marketing and Communications Librarian for Orange County Public Library; Roma Calatayud-Stocks, award-winning author; Madeline Peña Feliz, Associate Director for Los Angeles Public Library, Mario Ascencio, College Librarian and Managing Director at Art Center College of Design, Dr. Michele Villagran, Assistant Professor at SJSU iSchool; and Jose Aguiñaga, Assistant Professor at SJSU iSchool.
Keynote speaker Dr. Romelia Salinas began by talking about how her journey informs her work as a librarian:
“Oftentimes, especially for BIPOC, we keep our personal life away from professional life, right? But your difference is what makes you an asset to the profession.”
As a first-generation student from Central California, one of the biggest challenges that she experienced, and that her mother continues to experience today, is the lack of broadband access. This has played a major role in informing her work to tackle the digital divide and promote digital inclusion, which many folks found very relevant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following her presentation on her journey to be a librarian, her passions, and her research interests, Dr. Salinas hosted a short Q&A session, along with a reminder for attendees about the importance of building bridges and collaborations. “It’s difficult at times…but it’s important work. It makes you stronger together.”
The symposium continued with Part 1 of the panelist discussion, featuring David Lopez and Roma Calatayud-Stocks. Lopez and Calatayud-Stocks talked about how libraries should honor the diverse experiences of Latinx and Spanish-Speaking communities, as well as what elements should be present when honoring those community members. The panelists stressed the importance of not lumping people into one category, as it is important to be sensitive to the experience of unique individuals, as well as increasing representation in library staffing.
Further conversations about Latinx and Spanish-Speaking communities in libraries continued with a panelist discussion between Mario Ascencio, Madeline Peña Feliz, Dr. Michele Villagran, and Dr. Jose Aguiñaga. Panelists talked about how, as librarians, one’s own life experiences matter in the profession, especially since people are at the heart of what makes libraries today, or as Peña Feliz puts it, “Libraries are the great equalizers.” For many people, libraries are the only place where students can get homework done, or where people can connect with others. And while having Latinx librarians is important in directly connecting with community members, Latinx librarians should also consider higher positions in administration.
“People make up libraries. Community members are looking for an inclusive environment that’s a safe, friendly space. The library is key to both cultural consumption as well as production, but is probably the only space and/or place that is facilitates this in our society. So, it’s bringing together the cultural aspects, cultural consumption, and facilitating that not just through programming resources, services, but also having that empathetic and human touch.” -Dr. Michele Villagran
Following the panelists discussion and second Q&A session, the symposium concluded with closing remarks from Dr. Jose Aguiñaga.
“The work that libraries, and information professionals, and
organizations provide to our country contributes to fostering,
not only an inclusive society, but very much a stronger
nation…make sure that you remember that…our work does
-Dr. Romelia Salinas
Below is a summary of best practices as provided by the panelists during the symposium:
- Meet people where they are at by doing outreach in the community, meeting folks at churches, or going by supermarkets.
- Understand that, for many recent immigrants of Latin American countries, people may be reluctant to engage with surveys or express concerns about a government or public agency.
- Find other ways to support community members: recruit them into librarianship, write aspiring students a letter of recommendation, be a reference for a job application, have conversations with people in the library about a career in librarianship.
- Find inspiration in your life experiences and know that every opportunity is a learning opportunity.
- Believe in your ideas and believe in yourself. Find your cheerleaders, seek out support systems, and join organizations like REFORMA where you feel represented and heard. It’s those groups that are going to help you thrive in life.
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