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SLIS News

Second Language Inspires Alumna to Serve Latino Community

Posted Mar. 1, 2012

On a whim, Katie Cunningham started working at a library near her apartment because it seemed like fun. Once she started working, this fun-filled job sparked an interest in her that has become a rewarding career.

Cunningham, M.L.I.S ’09, originally from Blue Rock, Ohio, completed her undergraduate degree at Capital University where she majored in psychology and minored in philosophy and Spanish. She also studied abroad twice — once in the summer of ‘01 at Universidad Castilla la Mancha in Toledo, Spain, and spring semester of ‘04 at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. She then earned a Master of Library and Information Science in 2009, attending the Columbus site of Kent State’s School of Library and Information Science.

“It's justKatie_Cunningham turned out that I've used Spanish in all of my jobs since college,” she said. “My speaking skills are constantly improving through working with people in Spanish every day.”

Cunningham is currently the Children’s Librarian at the bilingual Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library in Lexington, Ky. When she began working in libraries, she instantly knew this was the profession she wanted to pursue.

“I was amazed by the work being done by modern libraries, particularly in urban neighborhoods, providing homework help, free lunch, adult education opportunities, early literacy training for parents of preschool children and other services that meet real community needs,” she said. “In addition, my Spanish language skills were clearly needed.  The growing Latino community is often underserved by libraries that lack the bilingual/bicultural staff that can help make the connection between the community and the library.  This particular area of library service is what made me choose to pursue my M.L.I.S.”

While pursuing her master’s at Kent State University, Cunningham took a workshop on Web 2.0 tools for librarians which inspired her to start a blog about bilingual story time programming.

“There are many websites, blogs and online resources for finding story time ideas and information, but few for those focusing on Spanish and/or bilingual programs,” she said. “On my blog, ‘¡Es divertido hablar dos idiomas!,’ I share story time ideas, book reviews, translations of rhymes and songs, flannel patterns and storytelling scripts, and anything else that seems like it would be useful for library staff, teachers or parents offering bilingual programs or raising bilingual children.”

Cunningham has also been appointed to the 2013 Pura Belpré committee that will select the 2013 award and honor winners. According to the American Library Association’s website, “The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.”

“As a member of this committee, I will be privately reviewing books throughout the year that are written and/or illustrated by Latino authors and illustrators,” she said. “I will help select the award and honor recipients.  Being appointed to this committee is a tremendous honor and a personal dream come true.  It's also a huge responsibility that I take very seriously.  I am thrilled to have been appointed.”

In addition to Cunningham’s other achievements, she has developed an online training course for the Library of Virginia titled “Connecting with Your Spanish-Speaking Community: Everything you need to know before offering a bilingual story time.”

“Often in libraries that are noticing growing Spanish-speaking communities, there is a difficulty in connecting,” she said. “The library may have special programs or collections targeting the Latino community, but they may not be getting the return on investment that they had hoped for.  This course will teach participants how to reach out and form a real connection between the Latino community and the library.  I will begin teaching the course this February.”

The best advice Cunningham can give to people pursuing careers in library science is to get professionally involved. Joining professional organizations and attending conferences as a student are great ways to develop a professional network of colleagues who can offer you guidance along your career path, she said.

“I am so grateful that I became a student member of ALA and Reforma while studying for my M.L.I.S.,” Cunningham said. “Also, find a mentor you can really connect with.  There will be frustrations, questions and hard decisions in any career, and a great mentor will listen and ask the right questions that help. Our profession is changing in drastic ways, and we need innovators with fresh ideas to keep us ahead of the curve.  Don't let the constant 'shushing' jokes wear you down; librarianship is an ever-changing and exciting profession to be a part of.”

For more information about the School of Library and Information Science, visit www.kent.edu/slis.

By Nicole Gennarelli