Librarians can be political activists too

Elizabeth Martinez, the former Los Angeles city librarian, has written a piece about coming to identify herself as a Chicano around the time of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles in 1970.

After the police tear-gassed the peaceful youth and families listening to music and speakers in Laguna Park (now Salazar Park), we fled to the nearest library, the Stephenson branch (now El Camino Real Library), where Library Assistant Flora Bailes closed the door behind us and sheltered us until we felt safe to travel the streets. Later that day, we learned that respected journalist Rubén Salazar, the voice of the Spanish-speaking/Mexican-American community in the Los Angeles Times and KMEX Spanish radio, had been killed....

Basically, the public libraries in these communities had little that reflected the Mexican-American/Chicano or African-American constituencies they served. The culture of these libraries said “English only” and reflected the public library profile in Anglo communities, with Anglo-centric collections and programs. Most library employees lacked the ability to communicate with community residents. Speaking Spanish among staff and with patrons was prohibited or discouraged, and longtime library employees were reluctant to change what they believed was appropriate.

Her piece looking back is in the magazine of the American Library Association.

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