Reflections on Spectrum's Beginnings

Photo of Champions Betty Turock and Elizabeth Martinez

When serving at her first professional position as a librarian in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Betty Turock learned a lesson she never forgot, “separate and equal” do not exist, but “separate and unequal” do. Thus, began her dedication to working with people, such as the Black Panthers, who have a real passion for seeing that equality is at the heart of all communities. Betty served as the 1995-96 President of the American Library Association. During that time she traveled over 300,000 miles and testified before the Congress and the Federal Commission on Communication to focus the advocacy of the people of the United States on Equity on the Information Highway, just and equitable access to electronic information for all people of the nation.

Elizabeth Martinez, Executive Director of ALA from 1994-1997 is known for her visionary leadership, innovative ideas, and advocacy for cultural diversity. Elizabeth, in collaboration with Dr. Arnulfo Trejo, founded and organized REFORMA, The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, and the Committee to Recruit Mexican American Librarians in California. She co-chaired the first ALA policy on diversity “Equity at Issue” in 1986 with Binnie Tate Wilkin at the request of President E. J. Josey. 

The convergence of these two principled risk-takers as leaders of the American Library Association formed a partnership that brought significant change to ALA. Their passionate commitment to a more diverse profession led to the successful founding of the Spectrum Initiative.

In her President’s Report to the Executive Board at their fall 1995 Meeting (American Libraries March 1996), Turock outlined diversity and equity as her overarching concerns.A series of Diversity Summits she organized, composed of representatives from all Association ethnic affiliates, produced a position paper and an agenda for ALA in which the rudiments of a diversity initiative were identified to “replace ALA’s past sporadic interest with long term commitment.” Among the goals identified were: raising significant funding for minority scholarships and creation of the staff position of diversity officer. A Presidential Initiative working group headed by Camila Alire, Cesar Caballero, Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Gloria Leonard (chair of the Council Committee on Minority Concerns and Cultural Diversity) formulated a plan for fostering a climate conducive to cultural diversity in the profession and within the American Library Association. That plan was put at the top of the Executive Board's agenda for the January 1996 Midwinter Meeting.

In her article, “Diversity: the 21st Century Spectrum” (American Libraries March 1997), Martinez connects the history of Turock’s agenda with Spectrum, an initiative of historic Association significance, saying, “Following the determined lead by past-president Betty Turock with her presidential-diversity agenda the Executive Board made a bold move at its fall 1996 meeting, and requested a proposal from the executive director to use up to $1.5 of the undesignated Future Fund for a diversity initiative intended to increase the representation of professionals of color.” That proposal recommended funding the education of 50 minority students per year, creating an annual Leadership Institute to prepare them for roles in the profession, and appointing an advisory committee to steward the newly established initiative. It was approved as the Spectrum Initiative at the Executive Board’s Spring 1997 Meeting (EBD #12.12).

ALA’s gift to libraries and library education was on the books.

At the 1997 Annual Conference in San Francisco the organizational structure needed to support Spectrum was presented by ALA President-Elect Barbara Ford in the document, "Spectrum Initiative: Next Steps.” To steward the newly established Initiative, Ford appointed the Steering Committee chaired by Dr. Carla D. Hayden, included, Khafre K. Abif, Mengxiong Liu, Diana Morales, Virginia M. McCurdy, Loriene Roy, Pamela G. Spencer, James F. Williams, II, and Kenneth A. Yamashita. The first class of fifty Spectrum Scholars was only a year away!

But its passage as an Association approved initiative did not mean the life of the Spectrum was secure. Funding to keep Spectrum alive was a struggle from its beginnings. Dr. Betty Turock persistently led that struggle. Sarah Long, ALA President, 1999-2000, turned to her to chair the campaign that would create the Spectrum Endowment. In her Presidential Message, (American Libraries September 1999) Long reminded her colleagues that after a tumultuous Association debate, Turock worked with supportive ALA Endowment Trustees—Pat Schuman, Ann Symons, and Bernie Margolis—to ensure their vote for using the undesignated Future Fund for the Spectrum Initiative. After ALA sold one of its Chicago building, Turock with equity legend Dr. E.J. Josey, Seoud Matta, and Janice Koyama, petitioned the Executive Board, led by Dr. Carla Hayden (ALA President 2003-2004), to appropriate $1 million from the sale to Spectrum. Hayden’s Executive Board voted affirmatively.

At the 2009 ALA Conference, ALA President Camila Alire, Immediate Past President Jim Rettig and President-Elect Roberta Stevens announced the Spectrum Presidential Initiative to raise $1 million to ensure continued funding for the Spectrum Scholars and the Endowment that supported them. Betty Turock chaired the successful campaign which exceeded its goal and raised $1.23 million from over 1,700 donors. Under Turock's leadership, Spectrum received and continues to see broad support by ALA members, Spectrum alumni, library school students, ALA leadership, ALA divisions, offices, round tables and staff, and friends of libraries and librarians.

At the 15th Anniversary of the Spectrum Scholarship Program ALA’s Council adopted a resolution honoring Spectrum, crediting its introduction to then American Library Association Executive Director Elizabeth Martinez and ALA President Betty Turock (2013 ALA Tribute#4 Annual Conference).

In 2018, Spectrum has demonstrated its success. The Spectrum Scholarship Program has funded 1,063 masters degree scholarships and 18 Doctoral Fellows. Our Anniversary theme is Spectrum's 20 Years: A Celebration of Community. To support our celebration, volunteers served as Cohort Champions for each of our 20 years to help strengthen and broaden connections within our Spectrum Community. These alumni honored our founding champion's investment and vision for Spectrum by strengthening connections within each cohort, expanding local networks of librarians of color, and supporting one another in raising visibility and funds for the Spectrum Scholarship Program.

Community members with historical information about the Spectrum Initiative and Scholars interested in sharing reflective pieces are invited to contact us at