Pathfinder Karla Alvarez: Supporting Equitable Opportunities in San José

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are leading interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

Karla Alvarez is San José Public Library's Community Programs Administrator - Equity & Inclusion Services.  I have worked with Karla in the Disability Access Committee.  I have found her to be earnest, determined, thoughtful, supportive, and a valuable member of the team.

A proud Latina who grew up in San José, Karla is the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico.  She is a bilingual English and Spanish speaker.  Her hobbies include hiking, visiting coffee shops and farmer markets, and salsa and merengue dancing.

Karla studied peace-building and human rights as a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame.

Her studies were complex and involved analyzing:

  • the root causes of conflict and inequality
  • strategies for transforming these structures and systems

Karla has a fifteen-year background in international relations and social justice, working for nonprofits and living in Mexico, Israel/Palestine and other countries, in addition to living in various cities around the United States.  Her many travels have informed her viewpoint and have helped her in her important work.  Her experience as a public servant began with her current position at the Library.

San José Public Library's Diverse Staff

Karla is proud of San José Public Library's staff, which she has noted as being diverse and committed to bringing equity and inclusion to the community.

According to Karla, here are some of the many ways that staff show their commitment to equity and inclusion in the Library:

  • "Frontline staff form trust-building space with daily interactions with the community."
  • Aides, pages, and routing staff move and shelve the Library's diverse collections.
  • Book selectors include as many different voices and life experiences in their new materials selections.  For example, if you look at picture book acquisitions, you may have noticed a wider variety of topics that cover all kinds of voices.
  • Administrative personnel who "maintain records and important workflows."
  • "Working groups like the Racial Equity Team, Disabilities Access Committee, Insiders Programming Team, Family Learning Center Coordinators, and certified bilingual staff help translate materials into different languages."

In addition to working with individual staff members, Karla is an intrinsic part of San José Public Library's working groups.

Supporting San José Public Library's Working Groups

Karla, as an Equity and Inclusions Manager, supports all of San José Public Library's working groups.

She says that she serves on each group as a "thought partner, coalition builder, and data nerd."

Her goal in each group is to support the "historically underrepresented and underserved communities" by developing "strategies to work towards more equitable outcomes for all and make a positive impact for our community."

Karla says that equity and inclusion is a:

"Team effort and needs many voices and life experiences to inform this work. We are always looking for more suggestions, requests, and opportunities to continue deepening this work, thinking through strategies, programs and policies that could serve even more community members."

The Work So Far

In the past year, Karla has worked internally with her colleagues on the following:

  • Listening to priorities.
  • Hearing about community interactions.
  • Thinking about the kinds of "trainings we could integrate to foster learning across our workforce to support them in their roles."
  • "Supporting the formation of' the Library's equity-focused working groups."
  • "Representing the Library in the City of San José's racial equity projects."

The past year has been "especially challenging with COVID-19 and ongoing social injustice highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement and Anti-Asian discrimination incidents," according to Karla. These events have had real impacts on Karla's colleagues and community members, resulting in "honest conversations with colleagues."  One colleague said about the work on San José Public Library's Racial Equity Team, “this team gives me hope.”

Karla says that moments like these provide meaning to her work and that she finds her work "most rewarding."

Karla says that the pandemic has revealed the many disparities in San José:

"I’m glad to be back to my hometown and be part of initiatives that are focused on creating a better normal for all of our residents. As a public library, our spaces are meant to serve everyone with access to information and learning opportunities. Whether it is through reading recommendations, programs to continue learning no matter your age or City-wide initiatives like San José. Access to bridge the digital divide, our work continues until every resident in San José tells us that they feel like they belong at San José Public Library."

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below.

Books About Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice

Diversity Beyond Lip Service a Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias, book cover
Inclusion Teachers' Perspectives and Practices, book cover
The conversation, book cover
Black Lives Matter, book cover
An inconvenient minority : the attack on Asian American excellence and the fight for meritocracy, book cover