Q&A with Michael Gutiérrez (1999), interviewed by Kirk MacLeod (2012)

Dr. Michael Gutiérrez (he/him/his) is currently Head of Public Services at South Dakota State University. His previously work experience includes library appointments at New Mexico State University and University of Delaware. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico, a master’s degree in information and library science from the University of Arizona, and a doctoral degree in education leadership from the University of Delaware. Dr. Gutiérrez has been active in national and local library associations. He previously served two terms as an ALA Councilor-at-Large, has was appointed to work on other ALA committees and task forces, including Committee on Education and Task Force on the Context for Future Accreditation, and he has been active with ACRL, most recently serving on the Leadership Recruitment and Nomination Committee. Additionally, he was served as Treasurer for the Delaware Library Association.

Kirk MacLeod, a member of the James Smith First Cree Nation, spent the first 10 years of his career in libraries running a one-person library for Native Counselling Services of Alberta and The Nechi Training, Research and Health Promotions Institute in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A 2012 Spectrum Scholar, Kirk was also selected as the 2013-15 RUSA Spectrum Intern, where he ran an interview series with reference professionals across North America called the IAmRUSA project. Graduating with his MLIS in 2014, he now works as the Team Lead, North for Alberta Law Libraries. From January 2018 to August 2019 he served on the Board of Governors for the University of Alberta. He is married to the nicest woman he has ever met, and has two lovely daughters, one of which is currently working towards her own MLIS at the University of Alberta.

KM: As we're speaking to a Spectrum-based audience, let's start with something simple; how did receiving the Spectrum scholarship impact you?

MG: I would say it had a great impact on me and led me to where I am today. It really opened my eyes to other aspects of the profession. In addition to public librarianship, there were special collections librarians, archivists, special libraries, museums, government documents, technical services, reference, etc. All which were not so foreign to me but when I attended a career fair at my Spectrum Leadership Institute, I was just amazed by what I could do in librarianship.

Receiving a Spectrum scholarship and attending the Leadership Institute also engrained within me the idea of being a leaders and paving the way for others. As part of the second cohort of Spectrum Scholars, I felt honored but also provided with the opportunity to pave the way for others. But, also be part of an exclusive club of Scholars.

Also, I felt that need to give back to the profession and to the community of librarians of color. I discovered and developed a good support system among some of the scholars from other cohorts that came after mine. And, that led me to meet other librarians in the profession who had experience and advice to share and think about, to get feel sad about, to get angry about, and to laugh about.

KM: Something I always like to ask people, what are you reading or listing to today?

MG: Currently, I am reading a few books because I am notorious about starting and stopping to read books. It’s something I am working on as a goal….

I am returning to reading Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race. A very powerful, personal statement. Enough said! I also started rereading The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. This books has various perspective and suggestions on how to be successful, but focuses on exercising your inner strength as well as staying humble in your success, since it didn’t come about without help from others.

But, I am really excited about beginning to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I recently heard about this classic when I was reading another article about information literacy. In general, Freire supports the idea of the learner being empowered and active in creating knowledge and not a bystander just absorbing what other state. At least that’s what I have been told, so I am interested in how he presents his argument.

KM: What have been your most memorable experiences as a Spectrum Scholar (so far)?

MG: I believe my most memorable experience as a Spectrum Scholar has been participating in the development and crafting of the 2004 Spectrum Leadership Institute in Orlando, Florida. Everything about it, including developing the curriculum, selecting speakers, coming up with activities, and just developing many aspects of the Leadership Institute was an exciting experience. Yes, there were stressful times, especially as the date approached closer and closer. But, I learned so much about myself and I believe that I drew on the leadership skills that I learned at my Leadership Institute in Chicago.

More importantly, there was so much good and positive energy that came from the new Spectrum Scholars that it was rather intoxicating and liberating. I think I have stated it before that this refreshing energy is something that I enjoy whenever I am around new (and older) Scholars. For me, participating in the Leadership Institute was a way to give back to the Scholars and to those who were instrumental in establishing the Initiative. Overall, it was a way to give back and state “Thank you” for allowing me to be part of the whole Initiative. To some extent, it completed the circle.

Well, maybe not necessarily “completing the circle,” but completing the cycle. There have been times when I have been active with the Spectrum Initiative and there have been times when I have not been as active, so maybe that’s why I am referring to my involvement in terms of being a cycle. Sometimes I need that positive and enthusiastic energy that comes from new Spectrum Scholars and it will last for about a year or more, then I am drawn back in some form.

I would say that some more memorable experiences have been watching some of the Scholars become active in ALA, especially Council, and some of them having leadership positions in various organizations, either public, academic, or special libraries. Additionally, one more memorable experience was being a mentor to two Spectrum Scholars at my former institution. That’s one memorable experience I think should be celebrated and that I am proud of.

KM: What aspect of your professional life are you currently most excited about?

MG: I would say being a mentor to new librarians. It’s an activity I really enjoy, but it took me some time to even believe that I could be a mentor because I didn’t believe I had the wisdom or experience to pass on to anyone. But, when I was putting together my dossier to go up for my second academic promotion, I realized I had accomplished quite a lot and had a wealth of experiences to disseminate to an up-and-coming colleague.

I believe it’s important to impart to them information and nuances pertaining to organizational culture, especially how to understand it and benefit from learning about it. I think many new librarians, especially people of color, can get derailed or frustrated navigating through organizational culture and the negative behavior that comes from it. In the past, I have provided mentees tips and solutions to deal with hostile coworkers, dismissive teaching faculty, and working through the promotion process. But, more importantly, I provide them with support and comfort by providing constructive feedback as well as listening and acknowledging the times when they feel angry, frustrated, hurt, and disappointed. Then we make a plan to overcome and be successful. And, in between, there are laughs and humor to get us pass all the nonsense. But, it’s important to come up with a plan, a solution, or a strategy to move past disparaging remarks or unprofessional behavior to achieve THEIR goals. And, I always am there to reiterate the importance of THEIR goals and to ensure those goals can be achieved because MY goal is for them to succeed.

KL: I see you've done a lot of work with associations at the state and national level. What are your motivations for joining and being involved in professional association?

MG: I have several motivations that push me to join and work to get me involved in professional associations.

First, when I go to these meetings, I don’t see people like me, POCs, at the table. So, I want to have a voice or a presence there. I may not say much, but I am there visibly to reemphasize that the profession is committed to diversity and inclusion. As they say, a stew tastes better with the inclusion of a variety of spices. Well, I want to be one of those spices.

Second, I have learned a great deal being involved in professional associations, such as planning and directing meetings, developing programs and what all goes into making them a reality, and especially about the hierarchical structure of these organizations, which is important in understanding how to get things accomplished. Once significant aspect I learned was budget planning, understanding an organization's finances, and some contract negotiations which I would never have learned had I not been willing to be involved in professional organizations.

Another motivation I would say was important to me was developing confidence to speak up at meeting or even run a meeting. So, for me, participating in these associations gave me the opportunity to practice and refine my soft presentation skills, communication skills, and professional skills. Those soft skills that employers are now looking for. Participating in associations, whether local or national, also helps with developing of team building, critical thinking, and leadership skills.

It’s a great opportunity that everyone should take advantage of! You might discover something new about the organization or about yourself!

KM: Thinking for a minute about Spectrum Scholars and Alum who might be thinking of volunteering for an association’s leadership, if you could go back and give yourself any advice for your first role with an association, what would it be?

MG: I would tell myself not to hesitate to take a leadership role. I think I was reluctant at first because I didn’t think I had the experience to lead an association-level committee and I also didn’t want to fail at such a high level. But, I realized that there were people on the committee who were willing to help you, such as the past-chair or past and current committee members. They are all on the committee or task force or subcommittee, etc. because they all have similar interests and agendas they want to promote and push forward. Of course, some on the committee are more passionate and enthusiastic about committee work and those will be the individuals that will offer to help you to be successful in your leadership role. Not to mention, there are several staff liaisons at the division level that are also there to offer assistance. I had to learn this, but then I was in regular communication with them. Or should I state, they were in regular contact with me regarding deadlines, reports, etc. that I found beneficial. But, more importantly, they provided continuity either through their presence or providing you with contact information for committee members who could provide it.

I know, as people of color, we are suspicious of “whiteness” and their offers to help and assist. However, we need to be open-minded but cautious, of course. As many of have been burned or disappointed or misled by our white colleagues, it’s difficult to believe they want to help us be successful working on a committee, but some do. And, yes there are still those that will want to silence or marginalize us. That’s why I say be cautious.

But, the advice I would give to myself would be not to hesitate to take on a leadership role whether at the local or national level because there are individuals available who will ensure that you are successful in your role. However, if you fail, then look at it as a learning experience and reflect upon how you could improve. And, if you’re really bold, ask someone, whose opinion you respect, and worked with you on the committee or task force or board how you could improve or if they could provide you with constructive feedback. But, again, be cautious.

KM: As someone with a significant focus on and background in leadership, what has been inspiring you lately in the field?

MG: That’s a tough one, so let me answer it this way.

What has been inspiring to me is seeing many Spectrum scholars in leadership positions, either in the profession or in the field. That’s truly inspiration for me because you have role models to aspire to and to seek out to give you advice and counsel. And, it doesn’t matter if they are younger or older than you. It’s just seeing that some of us have made it.

What also is inspiring to me is that the profession still has a long way to go, but it still remains committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion. And, that inspires me to continue to push forward and fight on. Just like democracy, you have to keep working on it or we begin to lose it.

You continue to hear instances where POC are disrespected or mistreated by their non-POC colleagues and it’s frustrating and unthinkable. But, these examples are true. So, that inspires me to be more determined to be a voice or presence where I can be more helpful and that might be at the local or national level. Or, it might be sharing my experiences and successes. Or, being a mentor to new POC librarians coming into the profession. Or, simply to provide them with words of encouragement and let them know that I have been there before. I felt the disappointment, the anger, the sadness, but with the support of other Scholars and a networks of colleagues, I used all that to inspire myself to push forward and, if need be, seek an alternative plan to reach my goals. And, I am still reaching for those goals!