Photo by Rosen-Jones Photography
Alonso Avila was the Resident Librarian at University of Iowa’s Main Library from September 2015 to September 2018. Alonso is currently the Information Literacy and Student Success Librarian at Oberlin College.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell me about your position and what you do?
I went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA and earned my degrees in English Literature and Spanish. My degrees and my residency experience in Iowa have enabled me to be the liaison to the Hispanic Studies and English departments at Oberlin College.
As the new Information Literacy and Student Success librarian, my responsibility is to keep up-to-date on current practices related to information literacy and to build connections with other partners on campus to work towards improving student retention and being conduits in supporting the students’ overall success at Oberlin.
What caught your interest about the residency that you were a part of?
I wasn’t ready to take on a “professional” position after grad school without the skill sets that would allow me to be successful, and the residency program seemed like the most promising and logical step in my career. The residency also seemed flexible and thus allowing me to further explore my interests in libraries while also being able to build my resume through public speaking, instruction, and reference. Being involved in both the special collections and research and instruction departments also gave me the opportunity to teach a credit course, Liberation: A Hip-Hop State of Mind, co-found and became a part of the Hip-Hop Librarian Consortium (HHLC) discussion group, and present at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Baltimore, MD and at the Society of American Archivists (SAA) conference in Portland, OR.
Before you became a resident, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?
I was excited about academic librarianship and archival work, but didn’t know what the best fit would be for me. That’s part of what I love about my residency: I got to explore several areas and figure out what works – and what doesn’t – for me.
How was the residency or job application process for you?
I spent a lot of time on the job application for the residency position and involved many people in the process to make sure that I secured the position. I solicited the help of friends, colleagues, and the career center to review my resume, cover letter, and help me prepare for the phone interview. Once I moved onto the campus interview, I continued to ask the same people and others for help on reviewing my job presentation and questions that I would be expected to answer during the on-campus interview. I put a lot of effort and energy into earning the residency position and pulled from a number of sources to show them my understanding of libraries, diversity, inclusion, and equity. I also incorporated my passion for popular culture (hip-hop) and interest in social justice issues to become a successful candidate for the position.
The residency was especially effective because it gave me the opportunity to build my professional network at the University, with other librarians throughout the country, and through professional development opportunities (ALA, ACRL, SAA, etc.). The residency also allowed me to learn practical skills: providing research consultations; teaching one-shot information literacy classes (solo or collaboratively); building substantial and meaningful relationships with colleagues and mentors; participating in a number of committees; and assisting with different student outreach initiatives through pop-up book displays and campus-wide programming (i.e. the Hancher Auditorium project “Embracing Complexity” at the University of Iowa which celebrated the complexity and diversity of the Muslim community through the arts). The residency also has the potential to be more effective for future residents by listening to their needs and having genuine conversations followed by concrete actions in order to affect change. Furthermore, the residency can prepare residents for a long-term position at the host institution or elsewhere, and refer to the institution’s mission and strategic plan as a way to truly support and advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace and on campus.
Do you have any comments or advice for current residents?
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to do so. Every phase of your professional journey will require you to let go of your ego, and you can’t always do it on your own. For example, in preparing for my class Liberation: A Hip-Hop State of Mind, I solicited the help of my colleagues to help me with the application process along with the preparation of my syllabus and creation of my WordPress class website. They also assisted me in reviewing my job applications, resume, and through mock phone interviews. Overall, make it a point to know who you can reach out to for advice/help, maintain communication with your peers/colleagues/mentors and build your network by joining listservs (ACRL) and/or groups on social media (ACRL Residents).
Photo by Rosen-Jones Photography