NMRT Member Profile: Ione Damasco

by Cesar Garza

Ione Damasco is the assistant chair of the Membership Promotion, Diversity, and Recruitment Committee, and she is a Cataloger Librarian at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. This Q&A was conducted via email.

First off, a question you probably get all the time, that unique name of yours. Sounds like...?

Well, the easiest way for me to tell people how to say my first name is to just say "eye-oh-knee." It's definitely an uncommon name, and most people don't get it right the first time, which is fine. It's funny all the variations I've heard. It's just four letters but tricky to say, I guess.

May I ask what nationality or ethnicity you identify with?

I identify as a Filipino-American. My parents emigrated from the Philippines back in the 1970s, right after they got married. Like many other young Filipino professionals at the time, my mother was a nurse and my father was an engineer. They came to the U.S. looking for better opportunities than were available in the Philippines. I think a lot of young Filipinos came to the States in the '70s, and my parents were fortunate enough to find other Filipinos here who were going through the same experiences and challenges of trying to adapt to a new country. A couple of years after they moved here, I was born in New York, where they first settled down and found jobs, but we moved to Ohio when I was a child and I have been here since then.

For many, a career path takes unexpected turns. How did you come to librarianship? Was there a career you thought you always wanted, until librarianship came knocking at your door?

Like most librarians, I have always loved libraries since I was a child. I learned to read early, so my father took me to the public library often to supplement the books I had at home. Once I got into elementary school, I became a regular user of the school's library. I was lucky that my school had a really great librarian, and she always had recommendations for me whenever I stopped by. But the funny thing is I never thought of becoming a librarian when I was younger. I actually went to college thinking I would major in something like political science and become an activist lawyer of some sort. I guess I just couldn't stay away from literature though because I ended up being an English major instead. Once I graduated, I wasn't sure what to do with my degree, so I worked odd jobs for several years, mostly in retail bookstores. A couple of my coworkers were going to library school to get their MLS degrees, and it surprised me to learn that a graduate education was necessary to work as a librarian. I finally got tired of working in jobs that didn't really fulfill any passions that I had, so I decided to go to library school and become a librarian.

What's funny is that even the path to my current position wasn't what I had envisioned when I first enrolled in library school. At first I thought I would become an adult reference librarian in a public library, but I enjoyed my cataloging classes so much and developed such a great mentor-mentee relationship with my cataloging professor, that I ended up where I am today, a cataloger at an academic library. That's the great thing about librarianship. It's such a big and diverse profession that it's easy to find yourself on a very different path from where you started.
How long have you been a member of ALA and NMRT? Are there other professional associations within ALA or beyond it that you belong to?

I've been a member of ALA since I was in graduate school. I think I joined in early 2005. My membership in NMRT is much more recent. I joined in January of 2009 when I saw some friends of mine were active in NMRT and realized it was a great way to get involved with ALA. Sometimes it can seem a little intimidating--trying to find a way to serve the profession in something as large as ALA--but NMRT is such an easy way to gain an entry into ALA and really get to know the workings of an association.

I'm also a member of ALCTS [Association for Library Collections and Technical Services], which is really great for my job. They offer a lot of continuing education programs that are really helpful for staying on top of things in my specific discipline within librarianship. Outside of ALA, I've been a member of and have served in various ways in the Academic Library Association of Ohio (which happens to also be the Ohio chapter of ACRL). It has been a great experience and a good way to get to know my colleagues across the state.

You're currently the assistant chair of NMRT's Membership Promotion, Diversity, and Recruitment Committee. What is the central aim of this committee, and how would you characterize your experience there?

As you can guess by our lengthy name, our charge is to recruit new members to NMRT, particularly library school students and librarians from traditionally underrepresented groups. We welcome new members to the round table, maintain a current membership brochure that can be used as a marketing and recruitment tool for NMRT, and try to find ways to perform outreach not just to potential members, but to those who may have let their NMRT membership lapse. I have really enjoyed my time on the committee. It's a great group of people, and they all do a great job of staying on top of their specific projects. Despite the fact that we haven't been able to meet in person, we've been able to get a lot of work done using ALA Connect to meet virtually and share documents and other projects that we are working on. I've been on lots of different kinds of committees since I became a librarian in 2005, and I have to say, this has definitely been one of the more enjoyable ones!

Would you say that more minorities are entering the library profession these days?

Since I'm a fairly new librarian myself, it's tough for me to say if I think there are more minority librarians entering the profession right now. I've been trying to do some research on academic librarians of color, and in conducting that research, the statistics I've run across, which mostly come from several years ago, show either a static or slightly downward trend in terms of racial diversity within our profession. I think there are some really great initiatives out there to try to recruit more persons of color into the field, like the Spectrum Scholarship program, which has been expanded to include a doctoral fellowship program, and Knowledge River, which focuses upon services for and the education of Hispanics and Native Americans. But I think a lot more can be done to try to reach out to potential diverse library student populations--trying to market librarianship as a career choice to students in high school and middle school, before they even get to college. I also think it's really important to support existing programs and develop new ones that are designed to help new librarians of color in terms of professional development so that they stay in the field. We do a pretty good job of recruitment, but retention is another big issue that we need to address as a profession. I've been fortunate to have participated in a great professional development program for librarians of color, the Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians from Traditionally Underrepresented Groups. I met some amazing librarians of color through that experience two years ago, and we continue to stay in touch and support each other professionally. But it's only one program, and it's focused on academic librarians, offered every other year, and only admits around 25 people per cohort. It can't be the only program out there to support new librarians of color. We need more programs and opportunities to help develop librarians of color every year, not just to succeed in their jobs, but to be leaders in the profession.

You're an Ohio-based librarian. Last year Ohio public libraries faced a drastic budget cut from the state Public Libraries Fund, which many Ohio libraries draw on to survive. You work in an academic library, but budgets are something all libraries grapple with. Have you sensed an impact on the Ohio academic library world from what's going on with Ohio public libraries? If so, how would you describe it?

The state fund for libraries really is restricted to public libraries, so there wasn't a direct impact on academic libraries here in Ohio. However, all of our libraries are facing tough economic times, and everyone has had to be more creative in terms of finding ways to provide quality services with less resources. Ohio academic libraries are really fortunate, because most of the academic libraries in Ohio are part of the OhioLINK consortium, which allows us to share valuable library resources, such as access to expensive electronic journals and databases that most of us would not be able to afford on the individual institution level. But it's a little scary, because OhioLINK is funded by the state, so it is also vulnerable to state budget problems as well. As a consortium we had to make some difficult decisions in terms of cutting some resources this past year, but overall I think we've done a great job of retaining a lot of resources that are valuable for our faculty and students. Hopefully things will start to turn around for our state, but in the meantime, I think we have all learned to be more creative and resourceful--"doing more with less."

I haven’t had a first-hand taste of the crisis facing public libraries; however, my husband is a collection development librarian for a large metropolitan library system here in Ohio, and his system was looking at severe cuts in staffing, services, materials, hours, even branch closures, last year. But what they say is true--people really love their libraries, and fortunately, his library was able to pass a levy last November that saved his library system. Although they still had to trim services somewhat, like closing on Sundays and having a week's worth of furloughs for the entire library staff last year to make up for the budget shortfall, overall they have been able to continue to serve their community well. It was really encouraging to see the overwhelming public support at the polls. Hopefully Ohio's budget woes will turn around in the next year or two, and libraries here won't face the same kinds of crises we have faced this past year.

Now for some lighter questions to get to know the Ione behind the librarian. A pithy answer is all that's needed.

What makes you happy?

Good food and good company. Specifically, getting a scoop (or two) of salty caramel ice cream at Jeni's, my favorite local ice cream shop, with my husband Matt, on a lovely, warm evening after work.

What makes you sad?

This is a tough one. I rarely get sad! Usually I just get fired up if I see something where I feel an injustice of some sort has been committed. I can say that I cry at movies a lot. Does that count?

What would you do on your day off...in a library?

Well, I love flipping through art books, so I would probably spend a lot of time with a big stack of those to leisurely browse through. After that, I would wander through fiction and look for something unusual to read, find a good spot to sit, put on my headphones, and just read. And of course, before I left, I would look through the DVDs to find a movie to bring home. I have such little free time that it's nice to think about having the time to just sit and read a book for myself and not for work or research or anything else.

What's the best advice you've ever heard or been given?

First, know who you are and find your voice. Once you've found your voice, learn to trust it.

What color would you want people to identify you with, and why?

Definitely the color brown. It's an earthy color, and I like to think I'm a pretty grounded, sensible person, and I hope that others think that as well. And I think the word "brown" has been very empowering for me in terms of claiming and owning my racial identity as well, so it has that deeper meaning for me.

Thanks very much, Ione, for taking time from your busy schedule to answer my serious and silly questions!