Meet the Candidates: Elisandro (Alex) Cabada

Editor’s Note: In the lead-up to the 2023 ALA/ACRL election, we’re profiling the 2023 ACRL Board of Directors candidates. We’ll feature one candidate in slate order each weekday from March 3-10. Complete details on candidates for ACRL offices are available on the election website. Make sure to vote for the candidates of your choice starting March 13.

Elisandro (Alex) Cabada is the interim head, mathematics library, medical and bioengineering librarian, director, IDEA Lab Digital Scholarship Center, emerging technologies and immersive scholarship librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a 2023 candidate for the ACRL Board of Directors as Vice-President/President-Elect.

1. Describe yourself in three words: Innovation, compassion, resilience.

2. Describe ACRL in three words: Community, advocacy, expertise.

3. What do you value about ACRL? ACRL is a community space where colleagues from the many different aspects of the Library and Information Science profession come together to further our shared mission as engines for discovery and access to the knowledge our users need to solve society’s greatest challenges. 

4. What would you as candidate for the ACRL Board like to see ACRL accomplish in the area of EDI?

My approach and beliefs with EDI (and we must not forget the important issues and work of accessibility) are informed by my own lived experiences as a first generation American and college student, born of Mexican immigrant parents, and who identities as a member of the LGBTQIA+ and neuro-divergent communities. What led me to the field of Library and Information Science, was a lifetime of viewing the library as a safe space where I could explore the world through books, which was a lot for a young child in a family without the resources to ever travel outside of our neighborhood in the south side of Chicago. While I had many career aspirations throughout my life, from an astronomer, lawyer, and anthropologist, I always found myself back in the library from K-12 all the way through college where I was a student assistant in a newspaper library. I came to love being surrounded by knowledge and helping others discover it as well. I would spend 20 years working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, where I still work today.

What does this have to do with EDIA and ACRL? I believe if we hope to improve the representation of underserved and marginalized communities in our field, we must move past the traditional “college to career” pipeline. ACRL can do more by advocating and partnering with local public libraries, school libraries, and community college libraries to leverage their relationships with local communities to reach diverse populations throughout their full lives. College and research libraries can complement the important outreach and engagement efforts of those libraries while also providing expertise and access to resources that our institutions can also leverage.

As with my own life experience, through a safe space where you can explore the world, libraries can help remind our youth that they too can attend college and benefit from the opportunities it affords, no matter whether they choose to go on to a career in Library and Information Science, or choose a different path. This is particularly important now as emerging and digital technologies are increasingly being applied in education, K-12 all the way through higher education and in industry. Scholarship is increasingly borne-digital and reliant on emerging technologies, an understanding of their pedagogical affordances will be critical to accessing information and knowledge itself. As Librarians, we know how important it is to break barriers to understanding these technologies for those reasons. Our libraries are also the last true community space in our society which also provides one the last informal learning environments. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, if not the Library, then who?

I have worked towards these EDIA goals in my own work by partnering with local public libraries, MakerGirl, and other groups to provide programming as well as offering summer internships to local youth in my Innovation and Design in Engineering and the Arts (IDEA) Lab digital scholarship center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We each can contribute through our own work and ACRL has an important role to play in providing resources and professional development opportunities to give us the tools we need.

5. In your own words:

What appealed to me about the academic/research librarian role was the scale, complexity, mission, and changing nature of our work. As the scholarship we support is continually changing with new discoveries and new modes of learning, we too are innovating and evolving in order to develop the instruction, infrastructure, collections, and other services to facilitate the important work of the communities we serve. As much as we serve an important service role at our institutions, we are also now increasingly involved in the full cycle of knowledge creation, as partners in the research process as much as facilitators of it. This brings new opportunities to help shape the goals, priorities, and academic programs at our institutions. This is critical as the paradigm shift towards Open Science continues to expand and take hold in higher education. Our institutions and researchers will be looking towards us for leadership.

This is a call we have already been taking on through the building of institutional and data repositories and through programs and liaison services to help our faculty, students, and staff understand the implications of Open Science for their work, as well as understand its important value. As scholarship is increasingly accessible to a much larger population, we bring a more diverse community of researchers and citizen scientists into the research process to help discover new knowledge and create the solutions to help us move forward. This is a new age for the academic/research librarian and I look forward to helping lead these efforts in this service leadership opportunity.

6. What are you reading (or listening to on your mobile devices)? I am reading The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.