Latina Librarian Talks Importance of Diversity and Inclusivity

Beatriz Guevera is advocating for the Latinx community through her work in a library in North Carolina

Beatriz Guevera Latina librarian

Photos courtesy of Beatriz Guevera and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Libraries are for everyone but if we look at who is working there, it remains a space without much diversity. Over the years, libraries have been pushing for greater diversity in their collections, and programming but white, non-Latinx people still make up 77.1 percent of more than 80,000 librarians working in 117,341 libraries today across the U.S., according to the American Library Association. Meanwhile, despite making up 20 percent of the national population, Latinxs only account for 7.7 percent of librarians in the U.S. and it’s even smaller for Black (6.4 percent) and Asian (4.9 percent) communities. And that’s a problem because when we don’t see ourselves represented in institutions like libraries, let alone aren’t able to speak to someone who speaks our language or is familiar with our unique cultural needs, we’ll feel less motivated to visit, use their resources, or benefit from their services. Though the number is small, it’s Latina librarians like Beatriz Guevara that are making a difference for our community and are proof of some progress being made.

Born in Mexico City, Guevara loved books from the moment she started school. As soon as she held one in her arms, the moment she read her first words in its pages, she “didn’t want to let it go.” For her, books were her portal toward creativity, imagination, and fun. This continued when she moved to the U.S. with her family around the age of 13 and started going to the school library during her lunch break. There, she says, everything changed.

“It always felt like such a safe, comforting spot,” she tells HipLatina. “When I met a librarian there who was bilingual, she started giving me books above my grade level to read. In the beginning, I was hesitant because I was barely learning English. But she pushed me and I always credit my becoming a librarian to her. She was my role model. She seemed to enjoy it so much and I saw that everything she did for all the students that came in was always positive and helpful. It was at that moment that I decided that I wanted to be a librarian.”

As Guevara continued through school, she carried this passion with her, becoming a library assistant at her high school library, enrolling in library school at the University of North Carolina, then toggling between various public and academic library systems in Charlotte. As many librarians will do throughout their time in library service, she’s worked in many different departments and interacted with the public in varied ways including circulation, reference, children’s, teens, adult, family, and bilingual and event outreach services, which organizes programming for the community. And unlike what many may believe about librarians staying behind a desk all day, she’s also had been able to travel to countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Spain for the International Book Fair.

“You don’t really think of the library being able to provide those opportunities but I was able to do that,” she says. “I think that’s what I love the most, that it’s never the same. It’s a job that’s constantly changing depending on who walks into the location and that’s what makes it exciting.”

At the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina where Guevara currently works, that’s never been more true. Over the eighteen years of her employment, she’s worked as a Library Assistant, a Bilingual Outreach Specialist, and Reference Librarian. But one position she never thought she wanted? Becoming the manager of the library.

“From what I saw, I didn’t enjoy it. I thought that it was all about being in your office and I really wanted that connection with people. I thought I was always going to be a librarian doing programs and being out in the community. That’s what I saw in my future,” she explains.

But something shifted when Guevara realized that there were actually many things she wanted to change within the library, like how it conducted outreach to certain communities, what staff were being hired, and what organizations they were partnering with. But without some kind of managerial authority, none of those changes were going to happen. Soon, it was undeniable: she wanted to have a voice in important library decisions and make a difference for her community.

One hurdle was that there was no specific library management program, nor had there even been a Latina library manager in the system’s history. However, she knew that having experience mattered and with her years of time spent not only in librarianship overall but at her specific branch, she felt confident that she could do it. She went as far as to ask her manager if she could shadow him, being present whenever he handled managerial-specific tasks like security incidents and budget decisions.

Then the opportunity came up when, within three months of shadowing her manager, a managerial position became available at South Boulevard Library, one of the branches under the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. While she thought it’d be easier to apply at this smaller location, she couldn’t have been more surprised – or thrilled – for when she actually got the position.

“I’m the first Latina library manager in our system and that was exciting for me because it’s so important for our people to see us in positions like that where we can do things that we weren’t able to before.”

As the manager, Guevara has a range of responsibilities including hiring, supporting staff, overseeing all 18,900 square feet of the location, addressing maintenance issues, and building partnerships with organizations outside the library. Some organizations that the library has worked with under her tenure have included Project Outpour, which sets up free mobile showers, toiletries, and food for the community; the Arts and Science Council, which offers clay-making workshops for children and families; Learning Health Centers of Charlotte to offer educational and health programs to families; and PFLAG Charlotte, which offers support to the local LGBTQIA+ community.

However, a responsibility that’s unique to her is how she conducts outreach to the local Latinx population. Some might be patronzing the library but not taking advantage of all the services, others might feel too anxious to come in due to language barriers, and still others might not know the library is there to serve them in the first place. To address these inequities, she includes the Latinx community in the design and execution of nearly every library program, translating marketing materials and scheduling people to ensure that there’s always a Spanish-speaking staff member during the event for any necessary interpretation.

At the same time, Guevara says her efforts haven’t been without pushback throughout the years, not from the community, but from within the library itself. “There were times throughout my career that I would say we need more Spanish speakers on staff and the response would be, ‘Well, why can’t people just learn English?’ That required a lot of education because being bilingual is a choice. It’s not about not being able to speak the language, it’s about us retaining our roots in everything that we do.”

Part of that advocacy has been fighting to get a staff pay increase for being bilingual and to include more Spanish-language and bilingual materials in the libraries. Sometimes, this is done in partnership with Spanish immersion schools in the area, who suggest the kinds of books they assign their students to read for schools. For the community itself, Guevera has also made it a point to offer bilingual story times, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and computer and digital literacy classes for Spanish-speakers. The library collection also includes materials like music, videos, free tutoring programs, college prep, and even telenovela DVDs.

“There’s truly something for everyone,” she says.

Her Herculean efforts to include our community haven’t gone unnoticed. For her work, she’s received local and national awards from the North Carolina Library System, the American Library Association, and the University of North Carolina Latin American Student Organization. In 2011, she won the Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award, which is only given to ten librarians a year. Incidentally, the person who nominated her was a first-generation college student, whom Guevara guided through the FAFSA and college applications.

“After she graduated college, she came back to the library and said that I had a big role in that,” she tells HL. “Hearing those stories makes it clear that I got into the right profession because we really are changing lives.”

But, as Guevara mentions, she can’t do it alone. When the profession is overwhelmingly white and non-Latinx, our community needs people on the inside to advocate for us, ensure that our needs are being met, and that our voices are being considered in every aspect of library services, design, outreach, and programming. The library, however, is more than “just about books,” because at its core, it’s about being a representative of the people you serve and the places you come from and she’s encouraging more Latinas to consider a career as a librarian. She notes:

“If you really love helping people, making a difference, meeting new people, being in an environment where things are constantly changing, where innovation is taking place, then this is the right job for you.”

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