National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session III: Don’t Just Talk About It, Be About It: New and Veteran Librarians on Connecting LIS Pedagogy and Readiness to Social Justice and Societal Change

Bharat Mehra:  We'll go on to the next speaker, Antonio Olivas, who's a librarian at the Auburn University Library, and former Spectrum scholar.

Man: Antonia.

Bharat Mehra:  Antonia. Sorry.


Antonia Olivas:  It's OK. I get it all the time, which is why at Auburn, I go by "Toni." So if Toni is easier for you, that's fine, but it is Antonia. Thank you very much. [laughs] And thank you again Tracy and the Office for Diversity, for inviting me here.

I am not one of the world's best speakers, so I have a little script that I have to read. [laughs] You guys are fabulous, so please bear with me.

When I was first asked to be a part of this panel, I thought to myself, "How am I effecting systemic and societal change?" After all, I'm not really out there marching and protesting against some great evil, or fighting a war.

I don't really see myself as a front lines kind of person. Can you guys hear me? OK. "Yeah, you're loud!" [laughs] I always thought of myself as a behind-the-scenes kind of gal, you know, the kind of person who would happily help those of you who are out there on the front lines. I'm there. I've got your back. [laughs]

But the more I thought about this topic, and after I had a chance to talk to several other panel members, I realized that I really am part of something greater than I originally thought. I'm not going to go into the latest statistics to hammer in my points, but we're all aware of those statistics -- the ones that talk about the graying of the profession and the small number of minority librarians in the profession, especially in positions of leadership.

We've all heard about those statistics, we've all read about them, and we've even asked ourselves and each other, "What are we doing to combat these issues?" Some have even accused the profession of talking the talk and not walking the walk of diversity, recruitment, and retention. Well, I'm not here to point fingers.

I'm here, however, to tell you that there are indeed librarians out there who are not just talking about these issues, but are doing something about them. Those of us up here were asked to be on this panel for one reason or another. You've heard their stories, and you'll be hearing more. At least one more! [laughs]

We're just a small sampling of what's out there. We're not even the best of the best. There are several other librarians -- usung heroes, if you will -- who do bigger and better things. They're not necessarily all behind the scenes, either. Perhaps you've read articles by one or two of them or maybe you're sitting next to one right now.

So what kinds of things are going on? How are some of these individuals effecting social justice and social change? A little at a time, that's for sure. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and our libraries and information environments certainly will not change in a day, either. Each of us has the power to take what we've learned in our respective LIS programs, apply our personal and cultural beliefs, and affect social justice and societal change ourselves.

One person, or a handful of people, can't do it by themselves. This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of going to the "Don't Move Out, Move Up" session, where veteran librarians talked about strategies on how to stay in the profession and become leaders. How many of you went to that? OK. Thank you for coming. [laughs]

I have to admit that I get frustrated with this profession sometimes, and I've only been in the profession officially for two years.


But seriously, there are times when I feel like a real fish out of water, and I know some of you do too. Something that all the panelists of the "Don't Move Out, Move Up" program agreed on was that we had to know one's self, and know one's work environment. Well, as mentioned before, I'm a librarian at Auburn University Libraries, in Auburn, Alabama.


Actually, I'm a library resident there, just like Kawanna, in the Reference and Instruction Department. Now, Alabama's a land far, far away from where I originally came from.


it's far away from my family too, in Phoenix, Arizona. Never in a million years, let me tell you, would I have guessed that I'd be calling the deep south home. When I first moved to Auburn two years ago, I was convinced that I would fulfill my residency duties, get what I could out of the experience, and leave that one-horse town with a whole new set of marketable skills.

Now, two years later, I've grown to appreciate the lifestyle and friends that Auburn has to offer, and I can't imagine leaving any time soon, if I don't have to. There were challenges to the move, of course, more than the fact that there was no Target in town, and the nearest Starbucks was a town away. [laughs] That was hard.

But as a recent graduate from the University of Arizona's library school, I had to not only familiarize myself with a large ARL library system and how it functioned in the greater university community, but I also had to learn about Southern culture and the Southern history, and how they affected the day-to-day activities of my new library.

An even greater challenge for me as a Latina in an unfamiliar environment was trying to teach Auburn about my culture and my history. Like I said before, sometimes I get frustrated with how things work, but that's because I'm in a different place than I'm used to, surrounded by people who aren't like me.

That doesn't mean that I want to run away to make my life easier, because by doing that, I feel that I may be more comfortable in a room full of people who share my cultural, spiritual, and professional perspectives, but I know that I'd be abandoning my duty to a community in Auburn that needs me.

When Tracy approached me about being a part of this panel, I first thought about the topic as, "All right, well, what did I learn in library school and how has it helped me to prepare me for the real world?"

However, after working the topic and mulling different ideas in my head, I realized that that's only a part of what I wanted to talk about today. Don't worry, I'm not going to talk about all the statistics, like I said, and I'm not going to bore you with too many of my personal experiences.

But I feel that you do need to know where I've been in order to understand what I'm doing now, and why I'm asking you to take a chance on your careers. I was fortunate, because I was part of two very important and highly respected programs in LIS education. Most of you in this room know about the Spectrum Initiative. If you don't, just talk to the person next to you -- I'm sure they'll fill you in.

The other program I was involved in was at the University of Arizona, and it was called the Knowledge River program. How many of you have actually heard of Knowledge River before? Oh, I'm so happy to see that! That's good. That's good.

Well, Knowledge River isn't too well-known, and for those of you who don't know what Knowledge River is all about, I'll give you a brief description of what it is. It's only been in existence since about 2001, 2002, I believe. And I was part of the inaugural class, which graduated approximately twenty seven -- I think -- Latino and Native American library school students, back in 2002, 2003.

For those of you -- let me see... It's a little different from Spectrum in that it basically is an IMLS grant funded program that specifically focuses on Latino and Native American students interested in becoming librarians. Well, not only did Knowledge River provide financial assistance for attending library school, but it also allowed me to learn more about information issues within the Latino and Native American environments.

For example, in addition to taking traditional core library classes, we Knowledge River students were required to take classes such as "Culture, Community, and Information Systems, " "Communities and Libraries, " and "Children's Literature in Spanish." Now, these classes were not closed to the greater library school community, either.

There were several non-Knowledge River students who participated in these classes, and also, some of the classes were taught by non-Knowledge River faculty members, including guest speakers and guest instructors such as Drs. Elizabeth Martinez and Brooke Sheldon. I believe that having these classes as a part of the library school curriculum was a vital part in our education at the University of Arizona.

When the University was considering cutting our library school program a few years ago, it was partly because of Knowledge River that our LIS program was saved. Having that many Latino and Native American scholars graduating from the program was a huge incentive for the University to keep the library school on board. Since the first class in 2002  they're saying, "Toni, shut up!"


Since the first class in 2002, there have been approximately -- I'm guessing around sixty Knowledge River graduates. I'm proud to say that I'm a Knowledge River scholar, because it was a unique opportunity that enabled me to learn more and be a part of greater experiences.

I was able to study issues regarding access to information to underrepresented communities, and learn to be flexible and open to new ideas coming my way. I always thought that I'd be a children's librarian, to be honest with you, and go back to my hometown in Arizona to do Spanish story time for neighborhood kids.

However, going through the Knowledge River program and being a part of the Spectrum Initiative -- most specifically the Leadership Institute that Spectrum puts on every year -- I realized that Arizona shares only a part of a greater community. I had to take a chance on a place and a job that I'd never had dealings with before.

My training at the U of A's SIRLS program helped me learn that information resources are everywhere, and I have a responsibility as a trained specialist to share my talents and skills with communities that need me, even if those communities are not what some of you would consider hotbeds for Latino and Native American cultural issues.

Since I only have a couple of minutes left, I'm going to kind of jump around. Basically, my job at Auburn University as a resident -- I'm hoping to stay there -- but one of the things that I'm proud of that I did with my Knowledge River training was, there was a case in the Special Collections and Archives Department that housed these Mayan artifacts.

Nobody knew where they came from, but because this little girl just kept hounding people, "What are those there for? And why do we have them? And how did we get them?" I found out there were stolen from Honduras, back in the 1920s or 30s. So as of March 2005, they are now back in Honduras, because somebody...


...Because we dared to ask questions and annoy people.

OK, I've got a lot more to talk about, but I'm going to go ahead and close up here.

When I said that I wanted to challenge you, I wanted to ask you to take a chance on your professions, your careers, what I'm saying is for those of you who are mentors to new librarians, ask them to break out of their comfort zones, OK?

And for those of you who are in charge of library schools, get to know what the Knowledge River program is about. And there are other programs similar to Knowledge River. For those of you who are deans of libraries, consider residency programs, OK?

And I'm going to wrap it up, because I'm getting the nod over here, so I had a lot more, you guys! Trust me. But I'll stop now, so thank you.