Arts & Resistance theme semester to engage campus, community
By Nardy Baeza Bickel and Lynne Raughley
Grand Rapids native Sheila García fell in love with being a librarian while working with immigrants and the Latino community in her city’s library. For Jesus Espinoza, it was helping community members navigate the digital work that did the trick. And for Edras Rodríguez-Torres it was helping document the work of Puerto Rican civil rights advocates in Chicago that helped cement his love for working in a library.
All three arrived on campus this fall as the cohort of a new Resident Librarian program that focuses on diversity, part of a nationwide initiative to increase diversity within the ranks of academic and research libraries.
“We are very pleased to welcome this group of promising librarians, and to engage in this effort to ensure excellence and increase diversity in the profession,” said dean of Libraries James L. Hilton, adding the program reflects the library’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as its recognition of a pressing need to implement solutions that will lead to tangible and measurable progress.
The library joined the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Diversity Alliance, which unites academic libraries committed to increasing the hiring pipeline of qualified, talented individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
“Being part of the alliance multiplies the effect of the program,” said Jeffery Witt, diversity and inclusion specialist. “It offers a network of committed institutions who can share knowledge and best practices, and offers our own resident librarians and extended cohort.”
Originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., García worked with refugee and immigrant families in West Michigan while obtaining her degree in international relations at Grand Valley State University. Upon graduation in 2014, she worked at the Grand Rapids Public Library as a librarian assistant, where she focused on improving services and access to the Latino population in Grand Rapids, as well as expanding services to new immigrants to the area.
“It was through my first year that I decided to pursue library information sciences because I loved it so much,” she said. “The ability to connect with community members and help them in various ways truly resonated with me. When I spoke with my then supervisor about my intent, he asked why I wanted to be a librarian and I said it was because I like helping people.” She went on to pursue her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Wayne State University
At UM, García wants to learn more about what a research academic library does and contribute her own research to the university.
“There’s a lot that I’m learning and a lot that I know I can apply to any library, although I would prefer to stay with academic libraries and work with first generation and international students because that’s been my focus all along.”
Favorite Book: To Live, by Yu Hua.
“The whole idea behind the book is that no matter what life throws at you, you just have to live. And it does it in such a wonderful manner… I just love that book.”
Born in San José, California, Espinoza first started working in his college’s library while at while studying at San Jose State University. Being able to help patrons from both the university and the community at large was a great way for him to get excited about the work.
“I would help students do research and find materials but also help regular public library patrons, referring to literacy classes, technology classes, helping them fill up an application for a job online. I really enjoyed that range of helping people find resources but also of helping people navigating a computer for the first time. That’s where I found my passion for doing this kind of work,” he said.
After college, Espinoza did an internship at the Library of Congress and worked as a staff member at UC Santa Cruz’s Library, and went on to pursue his Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At UM, he hopes to broaden his skill set and perspectives.
“What’s great about this residency’s structure is that is going to give me the opportunity to try a lot of different things and hopefully be at a great position to a) narrow my long-term career focus and b) be able to achieve that.”
Favorite Book: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez.
“I just love the language of magical realism and the descriptions… you feel like you navigate into that world. And I also find it very powerful, especially towards the end.”
Rodríguez-Torres was born Puerto Rico but grew up in Grand Rapids and studied history and Spanish at GVSU, and has a Master of Library and Information Science from Wayne State University. It was while helping document and digitize “The Young Lords in Lincoln Park”, a Puerto Rican grassroots social justice movement fighting gentrification in Chicago in the 60s, that first got him interested in library sciences.
“That’s where I fell in love with libraries because working on that project gave me the opportunity to work with the community and with library technology, digitization projects and also to experience what goes on behind the scenes in a library. And it also intersected with my passion for history.”
He received his MLIS degree from Wayne State University and worked on several projects in Detroit’s Cultural Center, and hopes to draw from his experiences to continue his work at UM, where he plans to learn about the inner workings of a large university library system.
“I also want to contribute original research in the areas of oral history as it relates to digital cultural heritage projects,” he said.
Favorite book: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King.
“It’s a really powerful book that helps shed the ethnocentrism that we all have and some of the stereotypes towards indigenous peoples especially in the area of nation-state building. And I love his writing style. He’s kind of snarky.”
Rodríguez-Torres will join the International Studies team, while Garcia and Espinoza will spend their first year focusing on community engagement. All three will actively engage in various library initiatives, and will complete capstone projects as contributions to the profession.
Jamie Sherman Blinder