iSchool Alumnae Receive ALA’s 2016 I Love My Librarian Award


Making a difference in our communities, inspiring a love for literature, creating innovative programming…these are the reasons why SJSU iSchool alumnae Lia Kharis Hillman and Olga Valencia Cardenas are 2016 I Love My Librarian Award winners!

Two San José State University School of Information graduates were among 10 people honored by the American Library Association with its 2016 I Love My Librarian Award.

Lia Kharis Hillman, ‘01 MLIS, and Olga Valencia Cardenas, ‘11 MLIS, were selected from nearly 1,100 submissions. “The winning librarians were recognized for their exceptional contributions to transforming lives and communities through education and lifelong learning,” according to the ALA news release.

Prior to becoming a librarian, Hillman was a chef. She still brings her love for food and nutrition to her position as a program manager at the San Francisco Public Library. She was nominated by Carolyn Federman, who runs The Charlie Cart, a nonprofit that provides tools and resources to help children make healthy food choices.

“Lia Hillman was one of the first people to contact us when we launched, to sign up to beta test our program. Lia applied for a grant to purchase our cart and curriculum (a mobile kitchen equipped with a sink, oven, stove top, and kitchen tools), renamed her cart the ‘Biblio Bistro,’ and set out to teach library patrons how to cook fresh, healthy produce,” Federman wrote in her nomination letter.

Hillman said it was a “big surprise” to be nominated and an even “bigger surprise” to be selected.  “I thought it was a prank at first. I was overjoyed with gratitude for the honor and recognition. After many years of generating interesting programs, it was amazing to receive confirmation that my work is truly appreciated,” she said.

Hillman notes farm-to-table cooking is at the center of Bay Area culture and yet for many, particularly those of limited means, cooking at home is a lost art. Through outdoor cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes, Biblio Bistro makes the connection between self-prepared meals and wellness and offers lifelong skills to the community.

“Biblio Bistro connects people to locally grown foods at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and in classes at the library. All recipes prepared on our mobile kitchen, The Charlie Cart, are inexpensive and easy to prepare. At the market, we feature one vegetable, highlighting its nutritional and aesthetic essence,” she said. “Booklists of cookbooks, health books, and gardening books related to the ingredient are handed out. The fragrance of garlic cooking always draws people in to observe, and they are rewarded with samples of sumptuous hot tastes of our recipe of the day.”

At the library, there are cooking classes that focus on taste, health, and simple recipes. Additionally, Hillman partners with The Cooking Project to offer foster youth ages 18-24 cooking classes monthly.

“Patrons report that they regularly prepare what they’ve learned from us at home and relish previously overlooked vegetables. They enjoy learning about ingredients, flavors and techniques new to them, resulting in healthier, enriched eating habits. Some report that they are cooking every recipe from our booklists using the featured ingredient,” Hillman said.

Biblio Bistro has attracted a presence at the local farmers’ market, which, in turn, attracts new library members and reaches out to hundreds of people. Biblio Bistro’s hands-on classes in the Children’s and Teen centers instill pride of self-prepared meals, according to Hillman. Through additional partnerships with schools, street fairs, farmers’ markets, parks and more, she hopes to expand the program by connecting people with nutritious food and library services for the health and wellness of the community.

Cardenas, a youth services outreach librarian at the Stanislaus County Library in Modesto, California, was nominated by the Friends of Modesto Library and several colleagues because she “lives her mission to bring literacy programs wherever she works; initiating new programs and building relationships with individuals, colleagues and the community,” they explained in their nomination letter.

One such example is the Dia de los niños celebration Cardenas coordinated that coincided with a local school’s open house and brought together several community partners. The event saw record-breaking parent participation. “There were so many things to do. My family had a blast!” exclaimed a parent.

Cardenas’ passion for her community was also demonstrated through her work on a family engagement strategy in a local plant nursery to promote literacy at home, a Dia de los Niños/Libros program that has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and a book club at the Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall and Juvenile Commitment Center that focuses on the younger and older male population. She is credited with making “the Stanislaus County Libraries better places.”

For more information on I Love My Librarian Awards, visit the I Love My Libraries website.