I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew I wanted to be a librarian.
Picture it! Thirty years ago this year, I was 17 years old, a high school student from Huntington Park working a job at a public library in Maywood. At the time, the position was just that: just a job. One day, a woman walked into the library. I asked her if she needed help finding anything. She told me that she was looking to borrow a film. I told her that the library had more than just films; we had music, magazines, and, more importantly, we had books.
The woman got close to me, and whispered, “I’m illiterate.” In that moment, I knew I was in a unique position to help this person. I held the power in my hands to connect this woman to resources, which included a literacy program, that would, hopefully, make her a well-versed citizen. This moment of empowerment is what made me realize that librarianship was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1999, initially to work as a librarian for the Smithsonian Institution. I spent 14 years in Washington, D.C. before arriving at ArtCenter. I always told myself I would eventually come back to L.A. – but only for the right reason. ArtCenter turned out to be that right reason.
I believe that the purpose of the ArtCenter Library is to provide students with a platform for exploration and discovery. At the library, students can learn from film, books, and media of all kinds. The library also provides a contextual anchor for our students’ ongoing education. I’ve heard testimony from pupils who make use of the library – versus those who do not – that the former group often has an easier time managing the College’s considerable course work.
Books are powerful enough to bring communities together. The library is the answer for a lot of issues, like social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can be the answer. The idea is to work with faculty members, student groups, and the chairs – everyone who’s willing to partner with us. Books are great connectors in that way because, as readers, we put ourselves in other people’s situation. This helps us be more compassionate and understanding to others’ life experiences.
I am someone who has advocated for the libraries at the national/congressional level for 15+ years. I also advocate for our students. I believe we owe it to them to support their success and offer them the finest tools at our disposal. It is our duty to provide students with a space where they feel welcome and included. I don’t want our students to have to choose between eating lunch that day and buying a book they need for class – that’s not a choice anyone should have to make. That’s why the Library is now purchasing two copies of each textbook from the Student Store and making them available at both campuses.
Banned Book Week is every September. We celebrated here on campus with a small book display and raffles for students. I sent out an email to all staff and included two of my favorite banned books, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Kite Runner, which is a real tearjerker. I signed off, and I shared what I’m currently reading, which is Toni Morrison’s Beloved. It’s been a banned book for a while now. I had never thought about this before, but maybe I like reading banned books.
As a library director, you sometimes lose a bit of the face-to-face time with your constituents. I am proud to say that many of the students who patronize the library know me by name. That’s because, after all these years, I’m still involved in the day-to-day and try to make myself visible at campus events.
I’m a personable person; I get along with everybody. I am always touched by how people say, “I love the library.” That’s very touching. My best day: when students say “there are many challenges on campus, but the library is addressing our concerns.” I don’t have bad days. Every day is different for me. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. Always in a good mood. No bad days!
Managing Director/Librarian of ArtCenter’s James Lemont Fogg Memorial Library
Former Co-Chair of ArtCenter’s Staff Council