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 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 an 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.
She went on to pursue her Master of Library and Information Science from Wayne State University.
“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 said.
Born in San José, California, Jesus Espinoza first started working in his college’s library while studying at San Jose State University. Being able to help patrons from both the university and the community at large got him excited about the work.
“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, 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.
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.
He said 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 said.
He received his MLIS degree from Wayne State University and worked on several projects in Detroit’s Cultural Center.
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.