Spotlight on: REFORMA Student & Alumni Group

iStudent Blog

Published: November 16, 2020 by Leslie Parry

The newest student group at the San José State University School of Information, REFORMA Student & Alumni Group, is only a few months old but already boasts a strong membership base, a busy event calendar and a vibrant presence in the iSchool community. The brainchild of Assistant Professor Dr. Michele Villagran, who serves as faculty advisor, the group seeks to connect students and graduates who are interested in working with Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities. Drawing on resources from the national REFORMA association as well as from local REFORMA chapters, the Student & Alumni Group is focused on building a supportive community and positioning students to be well-connected, culturally competent professionals upon graduation. MLIS student Rosa Rodriguez, who serves as president, highlights the group’s unique initiatives and opportunities.

What is REFORMA?

REFORMA, an affiliate of the American Library Association, has been advocating for library services for Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities for almost 50 years. Now with 20 active chapters, it aims to connect and empower library professionals across the country. The SJSU iSchool REFORMA Student & Alumni Group is only the second student organization in the association’s history. Rodriguez, an outreach coordinator at University Library, California State University, San Marcos, says her experience as a REFORMA member has informed her work on campus and helped her adapt services for her patrons. “Just having that opportunity to see how other libraries are promoting services, events, how they’re displaying books, what they’re doing to get community members out to their campus – it’s a good way for me to learn, by having these networking opportunities through REFORMA.”

The REFORMA Student & Alumni Group is open to any iSchool student, no matter what career path they’re pursuing. As Rodriguez, who has worked in both academic and public libraries, maintains, the important thing is to move away from monolithic thinking, particularly the assumption that “because people speak Spanish, they’ll have the same needs.” She explains, “One of the things we need to do is really assess: what are our patrons’ needs? We need to talk to them, ask them questions. We can’t assume just because they speak Spanish that they want bilingual books or movies in Spanish.” Some patrons might be interested in book clubs and programs, others in homework assistance for their children, others in technology. “Doing those types of assessments are applicable whether you’re going to be working in an academic or public library.” The opportunities she’s had through REFORMA National, LIBROS (the San Diego & Imperial County chapter of REFORMA) and SJSU, including conferences, presentations and event-planning, enhance skills that are essential in any role. 

Opportunities for Students

  • Connect with alumni. “One of the things we really want to do is bring in alumni and highlight them,” says Rodriguez, adding that professional insight from recent graduates is particularly valuable. “It’s important for us to talk to recent graduates about their trajectory. What courses would they have taken now that they’ve been in that field? What resources were available to them? What type of connections have they made? That experience is still fresh in their minds.” She sees the potential to build longer-term relationships through these conversations, too. “Once students graduate they’ll have access to those alumni. Just having alumni attend our events, or having them be part of our Cafecito con events as guest speakers, there are opportunities for students to make those connections.”
  • Collaborate with REFORMA National, REFORMA local chapters and the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center at SJSU. Fostering a sense of community, as well as providing opportunities for professional development, is a central tenet of the group. As Rodriguez says, “We want to offer members opportunities to volunteer for their local chapters. Once they graduate they’re going to be looking for positions or jobs in their area, so having those local chapters there for guidance can be very supportive. Having that right off the bat once you leave – that network, those relationships, knowing who to ask and what type of questions to ask - can be so helpful.”
  • Apply for scholarships. Multiple scholarships are available through REFORMA National and REFORMA chapters. Candidates are generally expected to be bilingual/bicultural, enrolled in an ALA-accredited program and committed to serving Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities. 

Get Involved

  • Attend an event. The REFORMA Student & Alumni Group hosts a monthly event series, Cafecito Con…. Rodriguez says, “We invite librarians or library professionals to come and talk about what they’re doing within their community, specifically for Spanish-speaking families: events they’re developing, activities they have for families, how they’re building their collections.” This month’s event, Cafecito con Barbara Miller, will be held Thursday, November 19 at 5:30 pm. Miller, liaison librarian at Cal State Fullerton, will discuss her involvement with the Latinx Community Resource Center’s (LCRC) Special Collection, as well as connections between the Chicano Movement, REFORMA, and LIS. You can register for the event here.
  • Become a member. Membership guidelines for both students and alumni can be found on the group’s website. But you don’t have to be a member to attend a meeting or an event. Newer iSchool students who are still exploring their options are both welcome and encouraged. Rodriguez says, “Even if they have an interest but are not ready to commit, I would encourage them to attend a meeting, attend an event, and see what we’re all about. And really see the potential for networking and for professional development.”
  • Contact the group. Curious about an event or opportunity? Have something you’d like to share? Reach out to the REFORMA Student & Alumni Group with your questions and ideas, including event suggestions, membership inquiries and blog post pitches. 

For more information, check out the SJSU iSchool REFORMA website and blog. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.